Can Education Change The World? (or is it all in our heads?)

“I’ll keep having babies until they stop taking them away.”

Yes, that’s what a mentally challenged young woman told the social services workers outside family court. She’d lost five or six children to the system already. A talk on birth control would have made little difference.

I heard about this case from our foster daughter’s lawyer after I asked her if M could possibly get some baby pictures of herself that her mother “Tracy” used to have. The lawyer shook her head in sad disgust.

“I doubt Tracy would have kept the pictures. She’s never in one place for long, but when I see her at court next I’ll ask.”

“Court? Again?”

“Yes, she’s had two more kids in the last two years—both of them are already in the system,” the lawyer replied from behind the heaps of documents on her desk.

No one’s told M that not only does she have two sisters (adopted locally) and a stepbrother living with M’s scary father but also two new baby siblings—in the court system.

So I ask, “Is Tracy mentally deficient like the other woman you just told me about?”

The lawyer thinks a moment. “No, she’s just evil.”

I’m sort of shocked by her honest appraisal and inclusion of a moral take on the woman. Knowing M’s history I’d have to say the stuff that was done to her was evil.

What would phrenologists of the 19th century say? Phrenology is the detailed study of the shape and size of the cranium as a supposed indication of character and mental abilities.

Walt Whitman wrote in his 1870 sexual-eugenic essay Democratic Vistas that America’s youth lacked sexually. They were “puny, impudent, foppish, prematurely ripe, and characterized by an abnormal libidinousness and a diminished capacity for good motherhood.”

Whitman’s remedy: “crops of fine youth planted” to become America’s best breeders.*

As a gardener and foster parent of a girl with “delays”  I’m troubled by the analogy. How are we to be rid of the weeds that grow among the fine youth?

To be pro-life is a radical idea in the history of the world where weeds, misfits and mistakes are gotten rid of. Slavery, body parts for sale, war and thousands of cast off orphans are the consequences of the human proclivity to get rid of weak and uncomfortable things.

How often do we hear now from “civilized” and “compassionate” people that this or that leader should be assassinated?

We hear of new procedures that may one day eradicate unacceptable or messy human misfits—a pipe dream at best but chilling when taking into account the many ways we find fault with each other.

George Combe, the Scottish phrenologist in his The Application of Phrenology to the Present and Prospective Conditions of the United States (1840) had this to say: The enlightened classes “raise the mental condition of the people . . . which will enable them to understand the moral and political principles on which the welfare of nations is founded.”

Combe predicted “an uncontrolled development of the faculties of Acquisitiveness (greed), Self-Esteem (excessive self-confidence), and Love of Approbation (vanity), in which could destroy the Union.” If something wasn’t done. *

We mustn’t judge the Victorians too harshly when we find that many embraced the idea of social and moral uplift through education and selective breeding. If we are honest we will see ourselves in the historical mirror.

vaughts-practical-character-reader-1902-2Studying bumps on someone’s head may seem silly to us. Frat parties and pussy hats would probably have seemed “funny” to them. We judge our Victorian ancestors harshly for bringing “civilization” to “less civilized” people (but if we’re being honest not many of us want to live the Rousseau dream in a buggy forest with no air-conditioning (see the movie The Mission).

How much moral uplift has come from the public school system (or the Ivy League colleges—many of which were founded as Christian seminaries?).

How many less unwanted children have come into the world because of legal abortion?

Yes, I had to make the terrible choice to terminate a pregnancy (after seeing the baby’s perfect body on an ultrasound). My very flawed and very human doctor dismissed my concerns about a blood clot in my leg for weeks. A vascular surgeon saved my life at the very last minute, but the doctors refused me treatment until the baby was gone.

I hadn’t really wanted another child, but until this very day I suffer from a profound sense of loss. Funny how the heart works.

The 19th century perfectionist idea that we can, through science and education, bring heaven to earth was an illusion. It still is.

It’s easier to be rid of things, to divide the skull into seemingly rational sections that tell us our fate, to abort babies who have low IQs or the “gay gene.”

We must be careful in labeling someone we disagree with a fool or someone to be gotten rid of. We so rarely see the evil in ourselves and gladly kill the other for reminding us of our own weakness.

Judges 6:24 says: “The Lord is peace.”

What are we?

* From Pseudo-Science & Society in 19th Century America, Arthur Wrobel, Editor

** Pictures from VAUGHT’S PRACTICAL CHARACTER READER

In THE DEW THAT GOES EARLY AWAY Buck Crenshaw stumbles into a selective breeding program with mixed results.

Sex, Love & Hating Men Before School

When driving an eleven year old girl to school each morning you have to make some concessions. Ten minutes of pop music shouldn’t be so bad, right? The problem is (ask my ex-husband) that I find it impossible to take off my social critic hat. Movies, books, TV, ads are all fair game–all the time (I just sent an email to Diamond Crystal Salt praising them for their silly but cute radio ads about a husband and a wife who actually seem to love each other–and Diamond Crystal Salt, of course).

My soon-to-be daughter is beginning to find this part of my personality exhausting.

First song:

Oh, I don’t know what you’ve been told
But this gal right here’s gonna rule the world
Yeah, that is where I’m gonna be because I wanna be
No, I don’t wanna sit still, look pretty
You get off on your 9 to 5
Dream of picket fences and trophy wives
But no, I’m never gonna be ’cause I don’t wanna be
No, I don’t wanna sit still look pretty

Mr. Right could be nice for one night
But then he wanna take control
And I would rather fly solo

That Snow White
She did right
In her life
Had 7 men to do the chores
‘Cause that’s not what a lady’s for

The only thing a boy’s gonna give a girl for free’s captivity

After hearing Sit Still and Look Pretty by Daya about a million times I ask daughter if she understands what the song is about.

“Love?” she replies tentatively.

I turn the radio down. “Nope. It’s actually about hating boys and men.”

“I just like the tune,” my daughter says.

“Yeah, it’s catchy, but the singer has a warped sense of reality if she thinks: The only thing a boy’s gonna give a girl for free’s captivity.”

“What does captivity mean?” daughter asks.

“It means the boy wants to trap and control you.”

“I think that boy Josh in Ms. Wood’s class is nice, don’t you?” She likes to deflect to happier thoughts but I can’t let it go.

“So this catchy little tune is making you think boys are a waste of time and that looking pretty is stupid.”

Daughter looks as if I’ve robbed her of her dream. “So this doesn’t mean you won’t let me wear make up when I’m in high school, does it?”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying. My point is that you can’t believe everything a pop song says. If you think a bunch of elves are gonna clean up after you, you’re mistaken.”

“I like the dentist elf best,” she says.

She turns the music back up. Her favorite song Closer is playing and we both sing along (because it so super catchy). If you haven’t heard the song it’s about a guy and girl who haven’t seen each other for 4 years. They hook up for the night in the back of the girl’s Range Rover that she can’t afford like the tattoo on her shoulder. Later they spend time on a stolen mattress.

Just before we get to school  this comes on:

And if you feel you’re sinking,
I will jump right over into cold, cold water for you
And although time may take us into different places
I will still be patient with you
And I hope you know

I won’t let go
I’ll be your lifeline tonight
I won’t let go
I’ll be your lifeline tonight

Cause we all get lost sometimes, you know?
It’s how we learn and how we grow
And I wanna lay with you ’til I’m old
You shouldn’t be fighting on your own.

Yes, this is a Justin Beiber song. It mentions getting high at the beginning, but you can’t have everything in pop music.

My daughter turns to me and says, “That boy Justin.”

I nod. “Yeah. That boy.”

*** Featured image from really funny article: UNHAPPY MOTHERS IN WESTERN ART HISTORY

AND . . . if you like reading stories about messy relationships . . .

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Weary of Running by Adrienne  Morris

Weary of Running

by Adrienne Morris

Giveaway ends December 12, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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The Witch of Wall Street

800px-hetty_greenHetty Green was a famously shrewd investor on Wall Street when women still had to sneak “a growler” at the back door of a saloon. Having been to enough bars in my early 20’s to witness drunken women collapsed in dark corners with their skirts up I sometimes wonder if bringing the tradition of women drinking at home back might be a good idea. 😉

Hetty was a Quaker so maybe she didn’t drink. She was miserly, too, so probably wouldn’t have paid for a martini (invented during the Gold Rush, btw).

When her father died he left Hetty a fortune to invest. She’d opened her first bank account at age 8 and read to her blind grandfather all the financial news of the day so was well prepared for taking her place among the Wall Street warlocks of the day.  Her dying father suggested that he’d been poisoned by someone seeking his fortune and that Hetty should expect the same.

What can we say about misers?

“Hetty Green’s stinginess was legendary. She was said never to turn on the heat or use hot water. She wore one old black dress and undergarments that she changed only after they had been worn out, did not wash her hands and rode in an old carriage. She ate mostly pies that cost fifteen cents. One tale claims that Green spent half a night searching her carriage for a lost stamp worth two cents. Another asserts that she instructed her laundress to wash only the dirtiest parts of her dresses (the hems) to save money on soap.” WIKIPEDIA

Eccentric men of history abound and some probably didn’t wash their hands. I fear women sometimes don’t like being harshly judged as men often are. My sons recover more quickly from dressings down by rivals and friends than my daughters do. It seems Hetty didn’t suffer fools lightly, but modern women tend to take real offense at being called horrible names. It’s as if they feel they should be treated better than men somehow.

Hetty made sure when marrying to get her spendthrift investor husband to renounce all rights to her fortune. Being such a cool-headed woman of finance who bought low and sold high, who kept tons of cash on hand to swoop in during panics to buy up other people’s heartache and who was even called upon by the city of New York to lend money to keep the metropolis afloat more than once, I wonder what the attraction to her husband was. I suspect she was drawn to his lack of control for a time. The marriage failed.

But as people say, the marriage wasn’t a complete failure. They raised two beautiful children (don’t you kind of hate that saying? I’d still prefer not to have had a failed marriage).

Hetty’s son broke his leg as a child. Hetty was rich but wanted to save money so she brought Ned to a free clinic for the poor. They screwed up his leg and after much pain and suffering (on the part of poor Ned) his leg was amputated.

An independent woman making wise investments on Wall Street is admirable (if you don’t mind preying on weakness, greed and stupidity in some cases), but being such a cheapskate with your own children seems kind of witchy to me.

What do you think? Is calling a woman a witch going too far?  Where is the line drawn between cheap and sensible?

MORE ABOUT HETTY GREEN

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Weary of Running by Adrienne Morris

Weary of Running

by Adrienne Morris

Giveaway ends December 12, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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Amusement Parks and Masculinity

 

We talked about Lena Dunham wanting to be loved not for her writing but for her half-naked figure in grungy underwear as we sat by the lake watching boys split into rival teams; ISIS vs.soldiers and super heroes.

One hundred and fifty years ago both Union and Confederate soldiers “spoke routinely of deluded people, dupes of the politicians, and ignorant masses. Both  Northerners and Southerners feared that democratic institutions were not adequate to deal with the realities of nineteenth-century America–they relied too heavily on the existence of a virtuous and intelligent citizenry.” Civil War Soldiers by Reid Mitchell

After the Civil War there lived some men and women who imagined high art and expositions like  the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 could pull the native and immigrant masses from their ignorance and childishness. For these men and women believed that real manhood and womanhood were attained when one practiced thrift, sobriety and volunteerism. This Yankee discipline and religiosity had served the North well. The aristocratic South lay in ruins and many veterans of the war remembered the South as a bizarre, other-worldly place of sloth and heat.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is never an empty place, thank goodness. On most weekends the front stairs are crammed with students, tourists and people needing a seat to eat their hot dog lunches, but many, many more people have rejected this “high” art as bizarre and other-worldly.

As much as we hate to admit this about humanity, there are many people who would rather not work at liking something. They’d rather go with their feelings and fuss over strained muscles (brains and brawn). Informational booths at a fair do only scant business compared to the corn dog stand (I like corn dogs–do you?).

Man/boys may have always existed in Western civilization, but for a good, long while in Yankee American culture they were looked down upon, seen as missing a key element of manhood and suspected of deviant behaviors. There is a certain sad and pathetic element to men who play too many games and wear funny pajamas. Women/girls who do photo shoots in bathrooms, give lip service to an ever changing feminism and then complain when young, handsome athletes don’t fawn over them are pathetic as well.

The once famous man/boy Fred Thompson who created Luna Park on Coney Island in the early 20th century had an epiphany at the Buffalo Exposition when the high-minded men of learning nearly bankrupted the endeavor for failing to realize the simple fact that most people didn’t want to be uplifted. They didn’t want to know about lost civilizations and proper canning methods. What they wanted was to be carried along the Midway where amusements abounded. Exotic dancing girls, loud music and incandescent lighting mesmerized and excited the people who already felt too old. Peter Pan was (and is) the hero of the day.

Even among the boys at the lake  some  created strategies and lofty goals. Some boys interrupted with random thoughts about nothing. Some led and some followed. The less ambitious waited to be picked on a team but offered nothing more than their feelings and soon wandered off to cool themselves in the lake before getting a snack from their mothers who probably like us were talking about inane controversies involving childish women we would never actually meet.

Sometimes, even beside a beautiful lake, it’s difficult to stay in an elevated frame of mind.

013

It is the mystery of the unknown
That fascinates us; we are children still,
Wayward and wistful; with one hand we cling
To the familiar things we call our own,
And with the other, resolute of will,
Grope in the dark for what the day will bring.–Henry W. Longfellow.

 

 

What Would Cyrano de Bergerac Say?

cyrano_de_bergerac____by_steeringfornorth-d34gl33
DeviantArt.com

Our son broke his iPhone screen the other day. He also failed his driver’s test so we didn’t have the heart to deny him a trip to the mall (an hour’s drive away) to visit the Apple store. For about 10 minutes we stood around at by far the busiest place in the mall wondering how to get help for my son’s ailing phone. The staff armed with ear pieces, tablets and matching polo shirts (allowing for just the right touch of hipster/tech geek/diversity/self-expression) scurried around answering questions and tapping away on their tablets with a surprising amount of patience considering the constant tugging at their shirt tails by the desperate iPhone-obsessed crowd.

After pushing our son to talk to a worker we were directed to a crowd of people huddled at the back of the store all waiting for HELP (not sure they were going to get it at Apple!). I playfully herded my son (who towers over me) into the sheep pen. He was not impressed. There was nothing funny about being without his phone for the two hours it was going to take to have his baby fixed. The idea of having to spend two hours at the mall wasn’t funny to my husband and I either though I figured it would be a nice, lazy day of people watching.

Not so.

We waited in the corral for a while until we couldn’t take the whining/crying toddler a minute longer. The kid’s mother was having trouble squeezing him with one arm while constantly texting with the other hand. How long would this go on I wondered aloud. That’s when my husband suggested we find the pretzel shop. Yet it was no better elsewhere. Most people had their heads down making love to their phones. The three women in full burkas were the only people who offered food for real thought.

A few nights before we went to see Cyrano de Bergerac performed at Congress Park in Saratoga Springs. As I don’t get out much I was much surprised to discover the Pokemon Go craze and how it transformed the park. Zombies everywhere–some sheepish zombies who knew they played the fool standing by lovely statues collecting imaginary, infantile monsters–missed the fact that  actual living actors would soon be performing a play about real and pretending people.

A husband and wife out for a stroll with their infant child  on the type of cool summer evening Saratoga has been famous for for centuries  grunted replies to each other as they scrolled through important info on their phones. A group of teen-aged boys who should have been hunting down cute girls and flirting with them cheered at a monster instead.

The play begins on a comic note. Young military cadet Christian de Neuvillette falls in love with Roxane but has no faith in his intelligence or romantic prowess to woo her though the two have made eye contact and he is certain they should be together. Roxane meanwhile asks her distant, big-nosed cousin Cyrano to watch after Christian when they go off to war. Christian reluctantly agrees to let Cyrano, a gifted swordsman and poet, write Roxane letters in his name.

  Hi jinks ensue for a while until Christian, showing a depth heretofore hidden, comes into his own and realizes that relying on devises to gain love is shallow at best and complete falsehood and tragedy at worst. Basically he throws away his cellphone, becomes a man and dies a noble death.

Cyrano refuses to tell the grieving Roxane the truth for various reasons and dies declaring that at least he lived with panache. I suppose we will say the same for ourselves when we die with the latest iPhone and have caught the many generations of Pokemon monsters set to come out. My daughter says that the makers of Pokemon wanted to do humanity a service by getting them out of their houses and into the public square a bit more. They lead sheep, they create pretend worlds that change real people–they are the tragic Cyranos of our day  who mask real humanity in brightly colored packages.

Now where are the Christian de Neuvillettes?