Friday, May 30, 2008

So, what is the value of history? They say that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. But history is not just the sequence of causes and effects, but the remembrance of ideas that drove those chains of events. During the Viet Nam war, the compelling ideas that drove American foreign policy were the "communist menace" and the "domino effect"... that if we didn't stand up to the "commies" and waste American lives and resources, all of Asia would be taken from us and be enslaved to an abhorrent world view. Please look at Southeast Asia now. With the exception of Myanmar (Burma), Southeast Asia's democratic and economic success offers a striking illustration of contrast from the failure and stupidity of American Viet Nam war era foreign policy and our colossal waste of American and Vietnamese lives. We once believed the world was flat... a world view that served quite well when all of us were isolated tribesmen hunting and gathering our way through survival on a less populated planet.

One of the things we learn from history is that we have been wrong at least half the time, maybe more... Many or even most of the ideas that have framed our perceptions of reality at various times have been proved false. Our world views and beliefs are often based on mistaken notions... So what if we are a nation of idiots? Perhaps that has always been the case.

With the light of history to illuminate our record of mistaken notions and tragic circumstances evolved from utter stupidity, how do we gain a clear view of reality? The first step is to restore a questioning skepticism. One of my students at Clear Spring always asks, "How do you know that?" It is a good question. We take too much on authority.

The hands are a great way to test things. We can see the newsfeed, and listen to the commentary of others, but unless it is our choice to live on a flat earth of ideas, we'd best be making things, testing limits, exploring on our own and drawing our own conclusions, not for the sake of belief, but to further our own exploration, investigation and skepticism.

Years ago, a friend sparked my investigations, when he challenged me, "Why you are studying to become a lawyer, when your brains are so clearly in your hands." My friend brought into question not just what I was planning to do in my own life, but the whole framework in which human intelligence has been understood.

Another reason for the close examination of history is that it can enable us to remember the other ideas, the ones rejected as unsound for unjust cause, without adequate testing in human experience, and whose success or failure was measured in the false framework of flat earth notions of reality. There are near forgotten ideas from the past whose time had not yet come.

Educational Sloyd is one of those ideas, not because it should be repeated exactly as offered in the 19th century, but because it opened for discussion the idea that education was much more than just filling empty heads with half-baked, wrongful notions... It proposed that the use of the hands was essential in the development of meaningful intelligence.

If what we've forgotten is destined for repetition, what about the ideas presented by Educational Sloyd? They disappeared almost completely from the American educational landscape. Let the repetition and testing begin.

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