Schools, Prisons, and Workplaces

(original image post by David Wolfe)

I re-posted this on Facebook a year ago, but it needs to be reposted.

We also can add a third column: most corporate workplaces.

There are exceptions to schools and workplaces, but the tendency is towards a prison model. When schools and workplaces deviate from this model, the transformation is dramatic. Schools and businesses that operate in ways that share control among all participants and value the principles of democracy, the results in participant engagement, ownership, confidence, creativity, etc., and in productivity is overwhelming. When schools and businesses change to participant ownership, it also increases the participants positive values towards difference and diversity.

So, while we may like to blame specific people and groups for the current eruptions of bigotry, such bigotry is encouraged and propagated throughout many contexts in this society. We have to re-evaluate and change all of these contexts.

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State of the World & Education

I’ve been thinking about how much I’d love to write about how children learn and make sense of the world, how teachers can tap into exciting ways of engaging children in their sense making processes, how teachers can transform classrooms and schools into communities of knowledge producers, artists, writers, and scientists. I’d love to write about metapatterns and pattern thinking, about transcontextual systems thinking, and about how teachers and children can collaborate in changing the world.

But, then the reality of our current social contexts of hate and fear of, aggression and violence towards, and disregard and contempt for anyone or anything that is different have taken over our collective consciousness. We are seeing some of the most depraved and hideous qualities of humanity. In fact, these are the most depraved and hideous qualities of all life forms. No other life form hates. No other life form hates, even though they may experience fear. Aggression and violence among other species is not viewed as beneficial or as something to engage in on a regular basis. Aggression and violence is risky and only utilized in the direst of circumstances. And, no other life form disregards or has contempt for other life forms. We’re the sole owners of these destructive thoughts and actions.

In other species, it doesn’t usually benefit the “group” (i.e., the species) to risk too many deaths and injuries. Such actions also require too much energy. In ecosystems, energy is the monetary unit. A predator does not go around killing every possible prey, only the one it needs for food at that moment. And, if chasing down and trying to kill its prey turns out to be too risky (i.e., the prey poses a risk by fighting back too vigorously) or too strong and fast, the predator will abandon the attempt.

People are often afraid of all kinds of animals that they encounter, such as insects, spiders, mice, snakes, and even dogs. We seem to specialize in fear, even when things or situations are not particularly threatening. On a field study to a stream with my university students, a few young women came running up to me to come look at something they had found. It was a larger spider stuck on a rock surrounded by turbulent water. This was not a particularly good predicament for the spider. So, I crouched down and put out my hand at the level of the rock. After the spider crawled onto my hand, I stood up. At that moment, a young man ran away screaming, while everyone else kept asking me why I wasn’t afraid of being bitten. I explained that I posed no threat to the spider and, in fact, just saved its life. I’ve encountered all kinds of animals in the wild, including snakes, tarantulas, lizards, sharks, and insects of all kinds, and I’ve never had any problems. However, one lizard was frightened and thought that he could bite my hand and get away. Unfortunately, for him, I could hardly feel his bite, but he was pretty cute trying. I’ve also saved the life of a couple of snakes on roads. They didn’t care for being picked up, but tried their first line of defense of pooping and peeing on me. It wasn’t pleasant for me, but they did get into the safety of the woods.

So, here we are infiltrated by fear and hatred of “the other” – of anyone who is different racially, religiously, and culturally. Diversity is loathed. Yet, in the biological world, diversity is essential. Without genetic diversity, species do no survive or evolve. Without a diversity of organisms in ecosystems, ecosystems will collapse. Diversity is critical to the functioning of all kinds of living systems, including social systems. Although some cultures survived over centuries without contact with other cultures, most had contact. Trade and the exchange of information enriched the lives of the people in different cultures. As nations developed, many developed guiding principles that valued diversity. Although the U.S. Constitution expressed values in diversity, these values were originally conceived of as concerning only white men. But, as we grew, we expanded this view to include women, Native Americans, African Americans, and many other racial and cultural groups. But, now we have elected a government of neo-Nazis that do not value diversity of any kind, and only value the propagation of fear and hatred.

Many good articles have been recently written that discuss how we have come to this point. I don’t want to go over this here. I started this post by posing a dilemma about wanting to write about educational ideas, but feeling overwhelmed by the significance of our current state of ugly affairs. But, I don’t think it is an either/or situation. I think we need to address education more than ever right now. Educational action may not have an immediate effect, but it can have a huge effect down the road. In fact, we are seeing now what has happened as a result of eroding quality of education. This erosion has little to do with the quality of teachers. However, this erosion has a lot to do with the corporate and political influence over education. The push for strict standards, high stakes testing, accountability, teacher proof curriculums, and so forth has been a direct assault on what should be among the most important goals of education. We should be helping children understand and appreciate diversity of all kinds. We should be helping children learn how to work together in communities through negotiation and the sharing of control in democratic classroom communities. We should be helping children work through their own psychological and social issues in ways that lead to healthy senses of self-efficacy and social awareness. We should be helping children to develop deep, meaningful, and complex understandings of the multiplicity of systems that are affecting their lives. But, instead we have taught them how to tune out; how to jump through hoops to get through school; how to be self-indulgent. We’ve neglected the personal and social growth and development of our children. And, now we are seeing the disintegration of the very fabric of our society.

Children are not born fearing and hating others. They are born desiring relationships. They spend their initial years learning about the relationships within which they live. The fear and hatred in families is contagious. In some schools, the fear and hatred is inflamed, or just not addressed. Schools could offer a counter measure against home life and friends. And, these counter measures are what we should be talking about and implementing.

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Words that Teachers Use

It’s far too easy to fall into the habit of criticizing children (or anybody for that matter). But, the words we use are weapons, are acts of violence. Although they may “just” be words at first, they begin to promote patterns of actions that heighten the intensity of our judgments about children.

To say that a child is bad, stupid, incapable, or whatever is an act of violence that can affect that child for the rest of his or her life. For me, teachers said I couldn’t sing and threw me out of the school chorus. They said I couldn’t play the melody flutes they had distributed to all children, then took back the one they had given me. That 60 years ago. It may be one of my strongest memories from elementary school. And, these words and actions did lasting damage. I still struggle with singing… even with “happy birthday.” I have tried to learn instruments, but that too is a struggle.

For those of us who work with children, we may have an immediate gut reaction to a child and think about how we don’t like him or her. What do we do when we have such thoughts? The first thing that we should NOT do is sweep the thought under the carpet or ignore it. We must start by acknowledging it. Then, we can say to ourselves, “I’m not going to believe that thought.” After this we need to make a concerted effort to empathize with the child, to try to imagine being that child. Ask about what the child is experiencing in school, at home, in the neighborhood, and so forth. Spend time imagining you are that child. This is an important step in the development of compassion, which is really trying to tap into the shared humanity, the shared experiences.

Relationships are, for just about every living thing, an essential ingredient to living and survival. But, humans seem to be rather bad at developing good relationships. It seems that we screw up many more relationships than we establish on good terms. For children, they are just beginning to negotiate their way through the complexity of human relationships. They haven’t even had a chance to develop some of the important skills for developing and maintaining relationships. And, a couple of those skills are empathy and compassion.

Avoid judging, but try to understand.

Avoid reacting, just be present with the child. Our tendency as teachers is to react and control a situation. If you can’t think of a skillful action that does not “harm” the child or “harm” the relationship you are trying to build, then just do nothing, just wait. Time is on your side.

Remember that building relationships with children is much more important than anything else you do. Relationships are more important than test scores, more important than teacher evaluations, more important than covering curriculum content.

The “bad” children you inherit in classrooms are the results of broken relationships. Children look for encouragement, love, and respect. But, they are often met with discouragement, animosity, and disrespect. Children are often not appreciated for who they are as unique individuals, and feel pressured to conform to some standardized personality.

As teachers, we must work with our own patterns of thinking and reactions so that we can be more open to the inherent qualities of the children. We need to drop our storylines and rationalizations and not believe everything we think. Then, we need to start empathizing with the children. And, as we progress through our understanding of each child, we can begin to help all children work with developing and maintaining relationships in the classroom. But, you, as the model and mentor, must set the example of how to work with relationships.

Such an approach is transformative. It transforms you, the teacher. It transforms the children. It transforms the classroom into a collaboratively run community. And, it sets the groundwork for transforming society. Imagine if all children came out of school with this kind of background in relationships.

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The Myth of Teaching & the Myth of the Teacher

Just about every time I hear or see something about teachers and teaching, especially in the popular media, I cringe. The media, politicians, and even teachers themselves perpetuate the “institutional” myths of teachers and teaching. In addition to teaching in grades 2 through 12, I also taught in university teacher education programs. One may hope that at the university, programmatic efforts would be taken to expose such myths. But, for the most part, I found just the opposite. Although there are a few faculty members who work to expose such myths and help teachers think differently about teaching and learning, the programmatic emphases are on promoting the status quo. In fact, one teacher training department in its monthly meeting decided that all courses needed to emphasize methods of teaching to the tests and of following “teacher-proof” curriculums.

This brings up the issue of:

  • what is the purpose of education (in any field, at any level)?

This question is not as easy as one may think, because there are some key corollary questions that need to be considered as well.

  • Who benefits from this purpose?
  • How does this purpose affect society?

For you, what is the purpose of education? Is it to prepare someone for a job? Is it to prepare people to participate in their country’s political system? Is it to acquire the great knowledge of humanity’s cultural and scientific history? Is it to acquire knowledge of one’s religion in a modern context? For each of these purposes expressed as questions, think about who benefits from that particular purpose, and how that purpose affect society.

For instance, if the purpose of education is to prepare one for a job, who benefits? You may say, that it is the student who benefits by being able to get a job. But, what happens if that job disappears by the time the student is ready to look for work? Or, what happens if the student changes his or her mind about what to do? From another perspective, the corporations and their top-level officers benefit from a job preparation purpose. They get workers without having to do as much training. They also may get workers who have been socialized to be obedient, to conform to the status quo, to not question authority, to follow rules and regulations, to be prompt and on time, and to not think critically about employer—employee relationships or about relationships between corporations, social justice issues, and environmental issues.

Having obedient and compliant employees is beneficial to corporations that value authoritarian leadership. However, such qualities among employees may be problematic for democratic societies, where citizens need to think critically about the issues facing their country and about their politicians. A democratic society should value non-conformists, civil disobedience when necessary, the questioning of authority, and those who do not accept rules and patterns of behavior on face value. From this perspective variation and diversity are essential to the survival and well-being of society.

But, let us get back to the myths of teaching and the teacher.

Politicians and corporations have been battling it out for control of education in the United States for well over a century. Why has there been such an interest in controlling education? If you control education, you can control the population. Corporations are interested in profits, and a true democracy is a threat to maximizing profits.

Read these for a great treatment of this issue:

  • Marshall, J. D., Sears, J. T., & Allen, L. A. (2007). Turning points in curriculum (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Gatto, J. T. (2002). Some lessons from the underground history of American education. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know Is Wrong: the Disinformation Guide to Secrets and Lies (pp. 274–287). New York: The Disinformation Company.

As corporate and political control has increased over the past few decades, teachers are under incredible pressure to conform to the demands. From teacher education programs to their schools and school districts, the pressure to march in-step with the corporate agenda is incredibly intense.

Teaching at its best values the diversity of teachers and their knowledge, passions, personalities, quirkiness, and all the rest. This diversity puts humanity in the teaching context. By valuing teacher diversity, we also can value children’s diversity. No child is left feeling marginalized. And, just as in ecosystems, diversity is a key to survival. Such survival is learning at its core.

Diversity also is the basis for creativity. New and innovative ideas do not arise out of conformity and mono-cultural contexts. Creativity brings life and excitement into teaching and learning. Teachers and students thrive in environments that value and nourish creativity. But, the corporate versions of teachers and classrooms have suppressed creativity. Children are bored and turned off. Teachers are bored and stressed.

The effects of the corporatization of teachers and teaching is the ZOMBIFICATION of teachers and students. As one student said, “zombies can’t think” (Bateson, N., 2016). They follow their noses and follow orders, but they can’t think creativity or critically.

But, the “myths” of the teacher and of teaching are based on older ideas that arose and became embedded in social consciousness during the scientific revolution. Rene Descartes and Isaac Newton transformed global societies over the next few centuries. Their fundamental, transformative ideas were that:

  • science and the scientific method could establish an objective truth (also known as positivism in philosophical terms);
  • by studying and understanding the parts of something, we could understand how the whole “something” works (also known as reductionism);
  • everything in the universe worked like a machine and could be understood from that perspective (also known as mechanism).

As science moves beyond these constraining ideas to a view of “complex systems” (where uncertainty, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and systems work in nonlinear and nonmechanistic ways), the social embeddedness of these three ideas has not been changing. We still operate on these three assumptions, which lie at the core of the zombification process today.

So, the myth of the teacher and of teaching is that it is a mechanistic process. We can tell a teacher how to teach and they will be able to teach successfully. There are tons of books and articles that do just this. They are cookbook approaches to teaching, classroom management, and so forth. And, they all miss the point.

Teaching and teachers can be understood by examining all of the different parts of being a teacher and of the processes of teaching. And, we can children most effectively by breaking down everything into its component parts. By doing this, they will understand the whole “thing,” whatever that may be. Again, such approaches miss the mark and lead us down a garden path.

And, of course, education is stuck on the one correct answer. The whole idea of testing is based on correct answers, with no room for different interpretations or variations. The teacher is in the role of always knowing the right answers, even though they often propagate incorrect information. Teacher education programs, textbooks, and all kinds of teaching and curriculum materials promote the acquisition of correct information as the primary goal of education. There is no attention paid to the multiple interacting contexts in which information occurs and is relevant. In fact, these interacting contexts are where meaning and relevance lie, but teachers are not encouraged to go into these areas.

For a related discussion, see:
My Banned Word List for Teacher Education or Questioning Our Assumptions About Learning, Teaching, and Schooling


Bateson, N. (2016). Small arcs of larger circles: Framing through other patterns. Axminster, England: Triarchy Press.

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Most Influential Books

Last week’s post discussed the issue of the books one should read, which implies that you are stupid if you haven’t read, at least most of, them. According to these lists, I must be pretty stupid. I’ve read some, but probably not 20%. Of course, I can’t always remember whether I’ve read the book, watched the movie, have done some combination of the two, or have read the Cliff Notes version. However, dealing with such lists may be a way of stroking one’s ego or perpetuating the storylines schools like to impart. Schools and their corporate co-conspirators want people to feel less than adequate and subservient to their bosses. Feeling confident is for the select few who will take over as the new generation overseers (NGOs … you thought you knew what “NGO” meant!).

As I mentioned last week, I think people should put together their own lists of “the books that have been most influential for me,” “the books that changed my life,” etc. You could expand lists to include film, music, and other media, as well as to people: (a) most influential people, (b) most influential poets, (c) most influential philosophers, (d) and so forth. As opposed to the “should read” or “must read” lists, these “influential” lists can be helpful to those with similar interests and to oneself in pondering one’s life path.

The first book I read was one in the series of Hardy Boys mysteries. It certainly was not a fine work of literature, but it was a landmark to me. I was not much of a reader, so actually finishing a book as something had not yet done. However, the earliest book that deserves to be on my list of “most influential books” is Lady With a Spear (1953) by Eugenie Clark. Eugenie Clark, who died a couple of years ago, was a world renown expert on sharks. She also would be on other list, such as most influential people, most influential scientists, etc. After reading her book, when I was 12 years old, I wrote to her wanting more information about sharks. A few weeks later, she wrote back saying that she was too busy to write very much, but that I should write to Jack Casey as the Sandy Hook Marine Science Laboratory. A few weeks after that I got a letter from Jack Casey, along with a jar full of preserved shark embryos and several books on sharks. I was officially hooked on sharks at that point Lady With a Spear set the heading on my life for the next 5 years. And, this book is not on anyone’s list of “must read books.” Yet, for one young boy, it was the most important book of his lifetime up to that point.

36 Children by Herbert Kohl was another book responsible for a major life change. At the time, I was working as a marine biologist studying fish eggs and larvae. When I read this book, it sparked my interest in teaching, especially science. I went from reading this book in the late fall, 1973, to looking for a teaching job. The following August, I showed up for my first teachers meeting in Brooklyn, New York.

Steps to an Ecology of Mind, along with participating in a 5-week live-in workshop on education by Gregory Bateson, indelibly changed and have continued to affect my thinking.

And, mixed in among some of these books were Meditation in Action followed several years later by Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa. Both of these books changed my fundamental views of how to work with my own mind. In fact, these two books set the stage to Bateson’s books, which looked at some of the same issues but from different perspectives.

Some of the other books that have had an impact on my thinking include, but are not limited to:

“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by Richard Feynman
Acts of Meaning by Jerome Bruner
Children’s Minds by Margaret Donaldson
Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch
Full House by Stephen Jay Gould
Greenpeace by Rex Weyler
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck
Malcolm X by Malcolm X
Metapatterns: Across Space, Time, and Mind by Tyler Volk
Millennium: Tribal Wisdom in the Modern World by David Maybury-Lewis
Mind and Nature by Gregory Bateson
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm by Stephen Buhner
Sibling Society by Robert Bly
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
Small Arcs of Larger Circles by Nora Bateson
Summerhill by A. S. Neill
Synectics by W. J. J. Gordon
Talking Their Way Into Science by Karen Gallas
Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner
The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter by Vivien Gussin Paley
The Freedom Writers Diary by The Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell
The Hidden Dimension by Edward T. Hall
The Water in Wide by Pat Conroy
World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements by John Hunter

And, some of my favorite poets include:

  • Charles Bukowski
  • Gregory Corso
  • e. e. cummings
  • Diane di Prima
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  • Allen Ginsberg
  • John Giorno
  • Spencer Holst
  • Theodore Roethke
  • Patti Smith
  • Anne Waldman

I also have been influenced by these philosopher, among others:

  • John Dewey
  • Maxine Greene
  • Aldous Huxley
  • George Herbert Mead
  • Bertrand Russell
  • Evan Thompson
  • Alfred Lord Whitehead
  • Ken Wilbur

What do these lists tell me? tell you?

Rather than what I have not read, these list show something about what types of ideas have affected my own work and thinking. I can trace an intellectual heritage from these books. And, if I was interested, I could find out what people influenced the thinking of the people who have influence me. I could construct an intellectual and/or philosophical genealogy.

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Books Everyone Should Read

Every once in a while a list of books appears on Facebook or in some magazine article. The list is called the “books everyone should read.” On first glance, the list appears harmless enough, but what issues lurk within such lists?

Interestingly, the same issues also occur within the area of curriculum studies. In curriculum studies, there are three basic questions one should ask about curriculum and curriculum documents, which include:

  • Who should decide what content is (or books are) important?
  • What content (or book) is more important?
  • Why is certain content (or books) considered more important?

If we dig into these questions, we begin to find that certain political, economic, social, and religious agendas and biases are embedded in what appears to be a fairly benign list of books or sets of knowledge. We also can ask another revealing question: what content (or books) are omitted from the list? And, what are the implications of such omissions?

Some tangential effects of book list is that they can transmit a certain level of psychological control. If you look through such a list and you have only read a few books on the list, you may react with feelings of inadequacy of one sort or another. These kinds of reactions may affect how you respond to authority in the future.

What is wrong with the list of books you’ve read? In fact, a better activity may be to ask what books have been most influential over you. Such an activity also provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the ideas that form a foundation for our lives. Put together such a list and think about how differently you feel after completing this list versus reacting to the BBC (or some other) list of books everyone should read.

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All Sizzle

For years I’ve used the expression, “all sizzle and no steak,” to describe a variety of situations. When my university decided to spend tens of millions of dollars on a new logo rather than develop new programs that could attract more and better students was one instance emphasizing the superficial rather than developing something with some depth and substance. Most advertising, most politicians, most television and radio programming, most news coverage in a variety of media, and most corporate educational efforts (standards, texts, curricular products, etc.) can be characterized as superficial with little or so real substance.

The combined effects of such superficiality from so many different contexts are frightening. Students show up for classes and expect to get “A’s” without doing anything substantial. And, they certainly don’t expect to have to think very deeply. Politicians can speak nonsense and voters will be enthralled with how smart and decisive they are. Disregarding the increases in fake news, the mainstream media “stars” dance around, crack jokes, and smile while “reporting” on awful events. And, they just don’t seem to be able to ask a good question, think in-depth about anything, or discriminate between junk and substance. They think neutrality and balance is good, which only leads to confusion and nonsensical reporting. They are caricatures of themselves. And, the people who listen or watch the news become increasingly incapable of thinking deeply about the events and people who affect their lives. It’s the Zombie Apocalypse. Everyone, except of the few who resist are becoming zombies — incapable of thinking deeply or clearly, incapable of making informed decisions, controlled by the wealthy elite (who are just zombies with money and power who “eat” the brains of the populace with virtual mouths of the media, advertising, and so forth).

But, we can get our brains back.
We can take our lives back.
We must do it,
Before it’s too late.
The time bombs are ticking.
We must wake up from
Our zombie stupor
And change the world.

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The Dissolution of the Institution of Education

I’ve been a critic of the institution of education in the U.S. for quite some time. Little did I know that in my lifetime I would see this institution be threatened with elimination. At this moment, I’m trying to contend with this radical change in status. Yes, we’ve had many problems, many of which were rooted in the politics of education. National standards and high stakes testing have been problematic. The ways in which teachers are treated, including low salaries, their systematic deprofessionalization, and their portrayal in the media and by politicians. But, now that we are faced with the destruction of the U.S. Department of Education and the massive defunding of public education, I wouldn’t mind going back to the way things were. An institution with all of its problems is better than no institution at all.

Without an institution of education, without a federal department of education, our children face a grim future. Those who will suffer the most are the poor and middle class. The wealthy can send their children to private schools. The rest of us, even with vouchers or other support, will not be able to access these schools. Just like public charter schools and public magnet schools, the vast majority of which cater to the wealthier families by making the process for applying and being accepted difficult and time-consuming to navigate. The parents in poor families spend their time trying to make enough money to survive and have little time for anything else.

Even going to private schools can be problematic. Many teachers have no academic preparation for teaching. Some private schools barely manage to act like baby-sitters. And, those private schools with some sort of brainwashing agenda can fail to provide the kind of education that is necessary for survival, let alone for thriving, in a world that is changing in ways that cannot be anticipated.

Children will be deprived of a basic education. For many children, schools provide them with the only healthful food they eat in a day. For many, school provides a rare safe zone, where they don’t have to worry about physical or psychological violence. And, as problematic as our education system has been, it did provide for these basic needs.

If some sort of free school arises from the ashes, they will be corporate run. The publishers and testing companies may step in to fill the gap. Then, they can control the very system that can rake in billions of dollars in profits. And, at the same time, these corporate entities can control what children learn, how they learn it, and what values children develop. As corporatized as we may have thought schools were, this will pale in comparison to the corporate schools that may arise. It will be brainwashing at its best. And, teachers will be forced into submission to the teacher-proofed corporate curriculum. Education for democracy will not even be a thought. Child-centered education may become a catchy phrase, but will have lost its essential meaning. Children will not be anywhere near to “center” of focus. They will be pawns to be manipulated for profit and for control.

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Losing Our Nation

I’m sad. Actually, I’m incredibly sad. I’m sitting here having realized that my country in gone. Poof! Just like that… gone. If you haven’t realized this, you have probably felt an uneasy sense that something-is-missing. This experience must be like dying in your sleep…. You lie down in a world of solid objects and all of your feelings and thoughts, then all of a sudden there’s no solid, physical world. Everything is kind of fuzzy and slippery. We can’t quite grasp anything. Even our thoughts seem fuzzy and slippery. We feel like we just cannot get a handle on what is real and what isn’t. And I think, as a society, we’ve been asleep for quite some time. And, now many of us have awakened into some sort of limbo state or purgatory as the Catholics say.

The coup has taken place, and yet people, especially our legislators, seem to think that everything might be a bit bizarre, but it is still business as usual. In reality, it is a whole new situation. It is kind of like a baseball team taking the 7th inning break, but when they come back out of the dugout it’s cricket and not baseball. We are no longer living in a democracy where the rules of the game have been followed for the past 240 years. The rules have just changed, but not everyone knows it yet. They keep thinking that this executive order, this nomination, and this action are the issues, but they are just the window dressings – the distractions for a much bigger plan that is going to change everything.

The way we’ve done business up to this point will no longer be effective. In fact, such ways will be counterproductive and feed into the take-over of the U.S. And, it’s not just the U.S. where the action is happening. The same transformation is happening in countries around the world. But, in this big shift, the U.S. will no longer be the leader of the “free” world. The free world is disappearing.

This movement of the “far-right” is not only occurring across national contexts, but also is occurring in multiple contexts, such as the media and communication contexts, the deep state (all of the government agencies and structures) contexts, the global economic contexts, the national economic contexts, the education context, religious contexts, cultural contexts, et al. (some of these are discussed in Jordan Greenhall’s article, “Situational Assessment 2017: Trump Edition,”

I don’t care for the word, “far-right,” to describe what is happening. Maybe it’s the rise of bigotry in a culture of fear and loathing. A rise in corporatism, as the central authoritarian god, not unlike many science fiction films: Fifth Element, Blade Runner, Brave New World, and Total Recall, among many others. Whatever you’d like to call it, the coup is happening right now. And, this coup is not just the president, it involves all of his advisors, and the entire Repugnant Party (aka, Republican Party). It also involves Democratic congress people who seem to think it is just business as usual. In addition, all of us are responsible for not voting, for being conned, and/or for thinking that everything will work out. It is also Putin and Russian, most Europe, South American, Africa, and throughout the Middle East and Asia. It’s in the technology, the media, the economy and big corporations. It’s in law enforcement and any number of government agencies. It’s also in the education system and in religions that confuse money and power with being a religious leader.

It is all overwhelming, but also workable. At least, I hope it is workable. Everyone of us has to keep pressure on our Congress people. We need to resist and stop making our current governments seem legitimate. We need to take immediate actions, as well as long-term actions, like educating ourselves and our children. Schools have failed and are in part responsible for our current situation. But, it isn’t the fault of teachers, but rather is the fault of the politicians and corporations that have systematically created policies and curriculum that dumb down our children, through fragmented and irrelevant curriculum and high stakes tests that show nothing of any depth about children’s learning and thinking.

There are no easy answers or solutions to this situation. But, if we want to find ways of working with this situation, we must examine multiple contexts and find ways in working with these contexts, which include, but certainly not limited to:

• political contexts
• all aspects of the economic contexts
• all educational contexts
• religious contexts
• socio-cultural contexts

These and other contexts all intertwine.

From within these intertwining contexts and the systems within these contexts, pathologies have arisen that have led to our current situation. To address these pathologies we must work transcontextually and avoid looking for linear causes.

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Mullings on the Pathological

The notion of “pathology” has been arising frequently in my conversations and correspondences. In fact, this past year has been an extraordinary opportunity to confront such a notion. We should start with what I mean by pathology or pathological? The dictionary definitions are rather narrow and shallow in terms of meaningfulness. However, when I discuss “pathology” or “pathological,” I am referring to a particular type of learning that has gone askew to the point of harming oneself, harming others, or harming the contexts in which one lives. Pathology can extend across scales from the minute to the global. A virus or bacteria may or may not be pathological in relationship to its context. There is one virus, Herpesvirus saimiri, that lives in a particular species of monkey. Unless something unusual occurs, the host monkeys suffer no ill effects. But, if another species of monkey tries to take over their territory, the H. saimiri virus infects and kills the invading monkeys (Buhner, 2014, see p. 108). Pathology seems to lie in the relationships and context. In such cases, the individual entity — the virus in this case — isn’t pathological, but when the context and relationships change, the pathology occurs within this dynamic. Another example is the Escherichia coli or E.coli bacteria. E. coli lives and thrives in our intestinal tract. In this particular location or context, this bacteria is helpful to our health and well-being. However, if this bacteria is ingested and ends up in our stomach, we get sick. When the contexts and relationships change, some complex sets processes are thrown off track and both the bacteria and the host can suffer a loss of life. So, for me, pathology and pathological refer to some situation (relationship, contexts, and processes) that cause harm or are destructive to an individual, a relationship, or any context that is typically autopoietic (i.e., self-sustaining, self-maintaining, self-repairing, self-transcending, and so forth), which is any living thing or any social or biological system.

And, to clarify the use of “pathology,” we all have our own pathologies. There may only be a few exceptional individuals who don’t have any pathologies. But, on the other hand, not all pathologies are equal. Some are more harmful than others. There are continuums (or “continua,” if you like) of fuzzily bounded pathologies within individuals and larger systems. But, many of these pathologies may only interfere with our lives occasionally or only at more subtle levels. Someone may have a chronic condition, such as a chronic viral infection, that may interfere with one’s activities and functioning one week, but then during another week, that person may function fairly normally. Or, one’s particular habitual patterns of obsessing about one’s weight or appearance or how they interact, may be problematic from time to time, but, in general, may not interfere with one’s functioning at work in at home. But, let’s take “anger” as a pathology. Getting angry occasionally may hurt someone else and one’s self at that moment. But, the anger may fade quickly and one’s relationships can be repaired. However, if that anger begins to dominate one’s relationship to the world, that anger festers and grow. It insidiously starts to infiltrate all aspects of life and can affect one’s health and all of one’s relationships. Such anger can act like a poison to everything it encounters, including one’s own psychological—physical health and well-being. Such poisonous emotions can affect social systems of various scales. As contexts contexts encounter one another, the “learning” of anger can spread.

There are people of note over the past year and right now who are propagating hate, fear, and anger. Such propagation of negative emotions is a pathological process of learning. It can spread from one individual to another and one context to another. And, such pathologies are dysfunctions in the relationships and contexts, and are ultimately destructive to those contexts and to other contexts that may serve as targets for hatred and as sources of fear.

But, suggesting that such situations are “just” sicknesses as a way of excusing the condition is not at all the issue here in this discussion of pathology. But, people do think or say, “oh, it was the way I was raised” or “ that just who I am.” Such statements are cop-outs. We do have opportunities to take control of our own lives and the way we relate to others. To blame others or to fall into familiar patterns of fear and hatred, is just like an addiction to alcohol or some other substance. We can break these feedback loops that perpetuate harmful or pathological ways of functioning and relating. We can stop destroying our environments and our social contexts.


Buhner, S. H. (2014). Plant intelligence and the imaginal realm: Into the dreaming of Earth. Rochester, VT: Bear & Company.

SEE also: Nora Bateson’s (2015) “Symmathesy – A Word in Progress: Proposing a New Word that Refers to Living Systems” ( — Provides a new and important perspective on learning.

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