Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Retrotopia: Learning Lessons

This is the thirteennth installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures discussed on this blog, using the toolkit of narrative fiction. Our narrator finishes up his trip to a tier one county, and starts to notice ways in which the Lakeland Republic has gone neither forwards nor backwards, but off on an angle all its own...

It must have been midnight, or close to it, when Pappas and I got back to the New Shaker gathering. The shooting went on until four in the afternoon; during a lull in the gunfire, a little after noon, we got into line outside a big olive-green tent in the middle of things, filed in, and left with glasses of beer and sausages and sauerkraut on big fresh-baked rolls. After the last drone was blown out of the air, people milled around while the judges conferred, and then it was time for trophies to be handed out—Maude Duesenberg, who I’d seen shooting earlier, squeaked out another win by a couple of points over a scruffy-looking kid from the mountain country off east. They shook hands, and he grinned; you could tell he was already thinking about getting ready for next year’s shoot. 

From there it turned into a big party, with plenty of food—somebody spent most of the day roasting a couple of pigs, just for starters—and no shortage of alcohol, either. Pappas and I ended up sipping moonshine around a fire with the guys from the 34th Infantry, who were already talking about what kind of stunt they were going to pull the following year. The ‘shine was pure enough that I’m honestly surprised that the whole lot of us weren’t lifted into the treetops by a sudden explosion, just from the vapors. As it was, I was tipsier than I usually let myself get by the time Pappas and I headed back to the jeep, and he was worse off than I was. Did you know a wheelchair can stagger? Trust me, I’ve seen it.

The next morning came too early, announced by the same overenthusiastic rooster as before. I got myself washed and dressed, and stumbled downstairs, to find Pappas looking as though he’d slept the clock around and was ready for anything. “I’m going to have to get the early train back,” he told me, “but Melanie says you want to see first tier up close, so she found someone to show you around Hicksville—a city councilwoman, I think.”

“If she can show me the nearest barber shop first,” I said, “I’d be happy.”

Pappas pulled out a pocket watch, glanced at it. “There’s one on Main Street,” he told me. “If we go now you’ll have time to take care of that before she shows up.”

That sounded like a good idea to me, so we said our goodbyes to the New Shakers and piled into the jeep for the ride back into town. This time there weren’t more than three or four wagons on the road that had been so crowded two days back; I gathered that most of the attendees were either sleeping off the consequences of the previous night or enjoying a leisurely morning. Fields and pastures eventually gave way to the outlying houses of the town, and then to the main street, which was paved—I hadn’t expected that—and lined on both sides with the sort of shops and city buildings you’d expected to see in an Old West history vid.

“City Hall’s there,” Pappas said as the jeep pulled up in front of the promised barber shop. He pointed to a three-story building of what looked like local stone half a block up the street. “Right next to the library. Ask for Ruth Mellencamp. All set? Hey, it was a pleasure.” We shook hands, I hauled my suitcase out of the jeep, and away it went.

I shook my head and went into the barbershop, and found a half dozen guys ahead of me in line. I’d expected that; what I didn’t expect is that four of them were singing. They had books open in their laps—copies of the same songbook, I gathered after a fast glance—and were belting out some song I didn’t know, and doing it in pretty fair harmony. I sat down in the nearest available chair, tucked my suitcase back under the seat, and all of a sudden had to fight down an impulse to laugh. You can run into a phrase hundreds of times and never think about what it actually means; I must have read at least that many references to “barbershop quartets” without realizing that that’s what guys did in barbershops while waiting for a shave, back in the days when there weren’t loudspeakers in the ceiling blaring pop music everywhere and veepads sitting in everyone’s lap to make up for any lack of distraction. In the Lakeland Republic, obviously, those days were back.

I’m pretty sure that if I’d picked up a copy of the songbook from the table in front and joined in, nobody would have blinked, and in fact that’s what happened with two of the next three guys to come into the barber shop. The odd thing was that the songs weren’t the sort of thing I dimly associated with barbershop quartets. I didn’t know most of them, but then I’ve got pretty specific musical tastes—jazz on the one hand, and opera on the other. Still, they were pretty good. One that stuck in my memory had a rock beat, and something in the chorus about a star man waiting in the sky. I made a note in my notebook to look it up once I got back home and could chase down the lyrics on the metanet.

It was a half hour or so later when I left the barbershop, feeling a lot less scruffy, and with another song’s chorus—“Turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes”—ringing in my head. It wasn’t a bad bit of advice for the day I was about to have, for that matter.

There were sidewalks, too, and I walked up the one that led to City Hall, went in, and asked for Ruth Mellencamp. She turned out to be short, plump, gray-haired, and businesslike, the kind of woman that looks like somebody’s slightly batty granny until she starts talking and you realize there’s a mind like a steel trap behind the cozy facade. “Pleased to meet you,” she said, shaking my hand. “Yes, Ms. Berger called down from Toledo two days ago. It’s not often we get visitors from outside here in Hicksville, and I admit I’m curious to see what you’ll think of our little town.”

“So far,” I said, “I know that it has decent train service and you can get an excellent shave here.”

She chuckled. “Well, that’s certainly a good start! Why don’t you stash your suitcase here and we can have a look at the town.”

“I was a little surprised to see paved streets and sidewalks here,” I said as we left the building. “I thought you didn’t have those in a first tier county.”

“They weren’t paid for with tax money,” she said. “About ten years ago, some of the business people in town got together, organized a corporation, got a charter from the legislature for it, and used that to raise money to pave six streets downtown. A lot of people contributed, and not just people who live in town. So the streets got built, a fund was set aside to repair them, and the corporation wound up its affairs and closed down.”

“I imagine you know,” I said, “just how odd that sounds to someone from outside.”

“Of course.” She gestured down the street, and we turned. “The thing is, that’s what corporations were originally:  schemes for public betterment that were chartered by one of the old state governments for a fixed term, and allowed to raise money by stock sales for that reason alone. It wasn’t until clever lawyers twisted the laws out of shape that corporations got turned into imaginary persons with more rights and fewer responsibilities than the rest of us.”

I remembered what Vinny Patzek told me about corporations at the Toledo stock market. “So you went back to the older way of doing things.”

“Exactly. We do that a lot here.”

“I’ve gotten that impression,” I said dryly, and she chuckled again.

Hicksville was a farm town’s farm town, and you could tell. The biggest store in town was a feed-and-seed with big silos out back, next to a rail siding where freight cars could pull up to take on loads of grain, and the next biggest business was a whiskey distillery—“you won’t find a better bourbon in the Republic,” Mellencamp told me—which also had its own rail siding, and a loading dock stacked with cases of bottles ready to ship. Thinking about the tier system when I was in Toledo, I’d conjured up a picture of log cabins, dirt roads, and the kind of squalor you get in the poorer rural districts of the Atlantic Republic these days, but that’s not what I saw all around me in Hicksville. What I saw instead was a bustling, tolerably prosperous community that somehow got by without the technologies everyone outside took for granted.

We stopped in front of another big building of local stone, with HICKSVILLE SCHOOL carved over the door. “I don’t know whether you’re interested at all in our education system,” Mellencamp said.

“Actually, I am,” I told her. “Ours has problems; maybe I can pick up some useful ideas.” It was half a joke and half the understatement of the year—the public schools all over the Atlantic Republic are a disaster area, and the private schools charge more and more each year for an education that isn’t all that much better.

She beamed. “Maybe you can. We’re very proud of our school here.”

We went inside. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that there were no armed guards in flak jackets standing in the halls—I’d seen none of those elsewhere in the Republic—but it still rattled me. The place was clean and pleasant, without the prison look schools have back home. We went to the office, a little cubbyhole in front with a desk for the secretary and a bunch of filing cabinets, and Ellencamp introduced me; the secretary had me sign in, said something pleasant, and away we went.

“People come here all the time,” Mellencamp explained. “People moving to the area who want to check out our schools, parents and grandparents who have free time and want to volunteer, that sort of thing. It’s very much part of the community.”

There were eight classrooms, one for each of the eight grades taught there. We slipped into the back of the second grade classroom, nodded a greeting to the teacher, and sat in wooden chairs up against the back wall. The room was about as plain as could be, a simple square space with a blackboard and a teacher’s chair and desk up in front, a round clock over the door, four big windows letting in light on the left, a teacher’s desk and chair up front, and rows of seats for the students, each with its little half-desk curving forward from one arm. The teacher was maybe thirty, brown-skinned, with her hair in a flurry of braids tied back loosely behind her neck. A blonde girl of sixteen or so was standing next to the desk, reading a simple story aloud, and the students were following along in their textbooks.

I leaned over to Mellencamp. “Who’s she?” I whispered, meaning the girl who was reading.

“An apprentice,” she whispered back, and motioned to a boy around the same age, brown-haired and red-cheeked, who was going from student to student, and now and then squatting down and murmuring something or pointing to some bit in the book. “So’s that one.”

I gave her a startled look, but decided not to risk interrupting.

The story wound to an end, and then the teacher started asking questions about it to one student after another—not the kind of simple you’d expect to see in a test back home, either. It sank in after a moment that she was actually asking the kids for their thoughts about this or that part of the story. I put my hand on my chin. It struck me as a very odd way to run a lesson—wasn’t the point of schooling to make sure that everyone in the class came up with the right answer when it was called for? Not in the Lakeland Republic, I gathered.

The reading lesson ended at ten-thirty sharp—it took me a while to remember how to read a clock with hands, but I managed it—and once it was over, the students and both apprentices got up and trooped out the door in a ragged but tolerably well behaved line. Ruth Mellencamp got to her feet once the last of them were gone, gestured for me to follow, and went to the front of the room. “Angie,” she said, “this is Peter Carr, who’s visiting from outside. Mr. Carr, Angela McClintock.”

We shook hands, said the usual polite things. “How long do you have before the next class?” I asked.

The teacher gave me a blank look, then smiled the you-don’t-get-it smile I’d seen too often for my liking already. “They’ll be back in fifteen minutes, after morning recess.” It was my turn to wear a blank look, and her eyebrows went up. “Good heavens, you can’t expect second graders to sit still for an entire school day. Don’t the early grades have recesses where you’re from?”

“We probably should,” I allowed.

“You certainly should. If I kept them in much longer they’d be so restless wouldn’t absorb a thing I taught them. This way, fifteen minutes from now they’ll be ready to sit back down and pay attention to the next set of lessons.”

I nodded. “I was curious about the two young people who were helping you—apprentices?.” She nodded, beaming, and I went on: “They look a little young to have gotten a teaching degree already—will they go to college and get that after their apprenticeship?”

That got me the blank look again, and this time it wasn’t followed by the too-familiar smile. Ruth Mellencamp came to the rescue. “They used to send teachers to college before the war,” she said. “I gather they still do that outside.”

“And I gather you don’t do that here,” I said.

“Good heavens, no,” said the teacher. “Why would we? You don’t need a college degree to teach second graders how to read—just patience and a little bit of practice.”

“But I’m sure you teach them more than reading,” I objected.

“Yes, but the same thing’s true of all the three C’s,” she said.

“That’s what we call the curriculum,” Mellencamp added, seeing the blank look start to appear on my face. “Literacy, numeracy, naturacy—we call those the three C’s.”

I took that in. “So you teach them to read, and then—mathematics?”

“Literacy’s more than just reading,” McClintock said. “It’s the whole set of language skills—reading, grammar, spelling, logical reasoning, composition and speaking, so they can learn whatever interests them, think intelligently about it, and share what they find with other people. Numeracy’s the whole set of number skills—mathematics, sure, but also the trick of putting things in numerical terms and using math in the real world, so probability, statistics, everything you need to keep from being fooled or flummoxed by numbers.”

“Okay,” I said. “And—naturacy? I don’t even know the word.”

“The same principle,” said the teacher. “The whole set of natural science skills: learning how to observe, how to compare your observations to what’s already known or thought to be known, how to come up with hypotheses and figure out ways to test them—and also natural history, what living things you found here, how they interact with us, with their habitats, with other living things.”

“I suppose you don’t teach that in the schools back home,” said Mellencamp.

“There are college classes,” I said.

“Most of these kids will grow up to be farmers,” McClintock told me. “Most of those that don’t will be dealing with farmers and the farm economy here every day of their lives. How on Earth will they know how to do that if they don’t understand soil and weather and how plants grow?”

“Back before the war,” Mellencamp reminded her, “corporate farmers tried to do without that .”

“Yes, and look what happened.” She shook her head. “I’m not sure we’ve learned everything we should have from the mistakes that were made back then, but that’s one I think we got.”

I thought about that on the train that afternoon all the way back to Toledo.


In other fiction-related news, I’m delighted to announce that the first volume of my Lovecraftian epic fantasy The Weird of Hali is now available for preorder. The publisher, Miskatonic Books, is sensibly enough releasing the high-end hardback editions first. Those of my readers who are interested in a signed limited edition hardback of The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth can preorder it herethose who want to go way over the top and order one of 26 copies of the fine edition, handsewn, traycased, and bound in the skins of beasts better left unnamed, can order it here. Beyond the wholesome attractions of writhing tentacles and eldritch horrors from three weeks before the dawn of time, this novel and its sequels deal with a good many of the core themes of The Archdruid Report, and should be of interest to many readers of this blog.


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Degringolade said...

Thank you for the David Bowie Reference. "Turn and face the strange" is a way of life, isn't it.

Robert Suchanek said...

Nice! I've been contemplating prehistoric alternatives to life as we know it but this is a satisfying peek at historic precedents.

9anda1f said...

Excellent installment. Appreciate your honoring of David Bowie.

Shane W said...

Lexington, KY: Announcing the inaugural meeting of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 859, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 859 Thursday, Jan. 14th, 2016, @ 7pm @ Common Grounds Coffee House, on High St near Rose, commencing every other Thursday forthwith, ad infinitum.
In Servitium Libertas!
Faithfully yours
Tower 859

Frank Chapeau said...

Happy New Year Sir. I'm very much enjoying this exercise in possibilities. The barbershop quartet was a nice touch. I'll be missing the Starman too. Hope to see something about the various tiers of Lakeland ag-tech in upcoming installments. So far the philosophy of the place is right up my alley. Wish I could emigrate.

roberta actor-thomas said...

I'm really enjoying this series.

Like you, I'm grapeling with the the insurance problems of fraternal organizations, but also contending with the "two Popes" disaster which has engulfed the Grange in California as the National Grange attempts to squelch progressive agrarian populist tendencies in our local chapters at the behest of Big Ag and biotech.

HalFiore said...

OK, I had to ask, and now I know, though I suspect that in other boroughs of Lakeland, barber shop quartets are still singing about bicycles built for two, and some singers may be even riding them now and then.

Still, Bowie is not a bad alternative, though I would rather hear them attempt a rendition of "Rebel, Rebel."

James M. Jensen II said...

Do I spy a reference to the late, great David Bowie in this installment? :-D

Also, I thought you'd find this amusing, and somewhat appropriate to the overall theme of Retrotopia:

The title is "50 things we don't do anymore due to technology," but as most of the commenters have pointed out, many people do, in fact, do many of them! On top of that, I find it fairly funny how many of entries boil down to one type of technological gewgaw being replaced by another.

Max Osman said...

I was really looking forward to the Trump post but that David Bowie reference cinched it. Did you read Kevin Philips American Theocracy, becuase that seems to be somewhat up your alley.
Also I know you lived through the Reagan era but American Thermidor by Stirling Newberry is a concise economic summary of the last thirty years in both "left" and "right" politics. He touches on both Rubinomics and how asset depredation works in modern America.
It's basically all a home flipping scam by this point.

SweaterMan said...


Thank you for the reference to the Star Man. It's nice to see that some of today's culture still resonates in Retrotopia. said...

A nice look into a school. This has been my chosen profession for about twenty years, and it's interesting to see the return of the "eight room" school house, so to speak.

I've been thinking about the Millennials generation in the US, lately. There have been a spate of stories in the news about them, blaming them for laziness and ruining the economy and suchlike. The stories made made me consider whether changes in the culture in the last two or three decades of the 20th century might have something to do with the current, alleged "generational divide." And yes, there are five major changes in cultural landscape and education that would have an effect, and I haven't seen these deeply discussed in mainstream news: 1) starting in the 1980s we gutted the home economics and shop curriculums, which taught American young people a range of practical hands-on skills and to put their fancy abstract math into practice. 2) That was the same time that cable television took off, and reading fell from the most common leisure activity to the second. 3) Video games came next, pushing reading from second to fifth. 4) Testing culture (usually for profit-minded reasons by textbook companies) arose in schools at about the same time. 5) The internet's rise gradually brought more forms of entertainment forward, pushing reading from fifth to seventh.

The return to books in the Lakeland Republic is an important insight. It was already difficult to be a sophisticated reader when young people committed 4-8 hours a week to reading; now most student-aged kids read for less than a half-hour a week. That three-and-a-half hours a week minimum — nearly 200 hours less reading a year than a generation or two before them — is a possible source of some of the complications experienced in my profession these days.

greg simay said...

Perhaps the Lakeland Republic would consider adopting Dmitri Orlov's "Unspell" approach to English (, which would allow much less effort in learning phonetics and spelling, and allow more mental energy to be devoted to concepts and reasoning.

Eric Backos said...

Hi John
Painesville, Ohio: The weekly joint meeting of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 is posted on in the MeetUps forum. Splendorem Lucis Viridis! Public Welcome! Tables for Failed Scholars. (Look for the table topper with the green wizard hat.)
Tower 440
PS – Thanks for the advertising space!

John Michael Greer said...

Degringolade, it is indeed. I'd planned to have the barbershop quartet singing some ditty Carr didn't know, about a yellow submarine, but a nod to one of the great musical presences of my teen and college years seemed more appropriate, all things considered. (When the news broke, "Changes" was the first Bowie song my wife and I played in his memory.)

Robert, I don't see a return to prehistory as a likely thing any time in the next few hundred millennia or so; that being the case, picking and choosing useful things from history seems like a good idea.

9anda1f, you're welcome and thank you.

Shane, so noted!

Frank, I'll see what I can fit in -- there's a lot more to come, and I want to keep the final book below 80,000 words or so.

Roberta, I hadn't heard; that's really too bad, though not at all surprising. I've come to think that it may be necessary to learn the fine art of founding new fraternal orders -- an art that Americans of both sexes and all ethnicities used to be very, very good at -- to do an end run around institutional fossilization and corruption from the top.

Hal, I'm sure people are riding them; I'm less sure that anyone's singing that song -- well, other than computers over in the Atlantic Republic. ;-)

James, I find that funny indeed, as I do many of those things, and some of the ones I don't do, I don't do because they use technology more advanced than I have (e.g., pagers and VHS recorders).

Max, I haven't read either of those, but I'll have a look as time permits. It's not just a home flipping scam, btw -- it's that, plus fifteen or twenty equally egregious scams, all heaped up on top of one another!

Sweaterman, you're welcome. I certainly hope people are still listening to, and singing, Bowie's songs in 2065!

Andrew, getting back to print media is a core element of the Lakeland approach. As Carr noticed earlier, print media is much more information-dense than visual media -- the entire information content of a half hour news program on TV or podcast is about the same as the front page of an average newspaper -- and so a society that relies on visual media will quite simply be more ignorant than one that relies on print media. Because visual imagery is unfiltered by the linguistic/analytic parts of the brain, a society that relies on visual media will also tend to think less and react unthinkingly more often than one that relies on print media. Those aren't things a society can afford over the long term, which is why I expect print media to stage a forceful comeback over the decades and centuries to come.

John Michael Greer said...

Greg, have you looked up whether there's any documented correlation between simplified spelling systems and improvements in conceptual reasoning? To the best of my knowledge, there isn't. Spelling-reform gimmicks like Dmitry's get floated every decade or so, and they go nowhere. They're like artificial languages of the Esperanto style, which all make perfect sense and never attract more than a small following of hobbyists, because human beings are not rational creatures -- nor will they ever be, nor can they be made rational without mental and spiritual mutilation.

Eric, so noted!

Eric Backos said...

Hi Shane
Congratulations on the inaugural meeting of GWB&PA No. 859!
We at Tower 440 extend full recognition and privileges to Tower 859.
PS – Love the motto. Should we have heraldry?

deedl said...

Your school reminds me a bit on the Waldorf School system.

Basically every school system that differs from the current implementations of the nuremberg funnel is an improvement. One should not forget that the modern western school system was formed in the 19th century when most western countries were still monarchies but also in need for more and more educated labour. The task was to come up with a school system that qualifies for sophisticatd jobs without teaching to think independently.

A nice essay about the current school system that stretches your architectural comparison to prisons much further can be found here (original in german)

"[...]Most terrifying is, that human beings are robbed of their autonomy and their most elemental rights for many hours every day, without anyone calling it deprivation of liberty or violence and stepping in for the abused. The intrusion in personal rights can hardly be surpassed: A student (beyond the first years) has during class no right to talk or to move on his own initiative, but only when approved by the authority. He can't even go to the window to breath some fresh air. He is not allowed to communicate with his neighbour, but only along a central axis to the teacher and only about topics specified by the latter. The Situation is totally grotesque. Even prisoners in jail have more rights. But instead of fighting for the liberation from these undeserving circumstances, teacher and other authorities complain about missing willingness of students to cooperate, about lazynass, about violence in the classroom. [...]"

The Essay was written by Fabian Schindler, who also wrote the book "Das Ende der Megamaschine" (The End of the Megamaschine) that talks about the rise and fall of modern western industrial civilization, which may be a book worth to read for german speaking archdruid readers.

Yucca Glauca said...


A lot of langauges have instituted spelling reforms recently enough that spelling reflects pronounciation almost perfectly. There's been a good bit of research on the effects this has on early education. You can look up "Foundational Literacy Acquisition in European Orthographies" by Seymour, Aro, and Ershine (2003) for one example. I haven't seen any that look at conceptual reasoning, but all of the studies I've seen have concluded that there's a disadvantage to English speaking children in terms of having to spend something like an extra year gaining basic reading ability while speakers of more recently reformed languages are already on to more advanced studies. I've also seen some that conclude that some students with learning disabilities who are never able to achieve full literacy could actually become fully literate in a language with reformed spelling.

That being said, I wouldn't support a spelling reform in English. I think it's likely that English will be replaced as a colloquial language by something like Alengo not long after television stops blaring a standard accent into most people's houses day and night, maybe sooner if social pressures are right. When that happens, people still understanding present day spelling will be important in retaining knowledge through decline, and the history preserved in the current spelling system will someday be precious to scholars who study dead languages.

Martin B said...

In a serendipitous bit of timing, our South African Dept of Basic Education has just announced that they will bring back streaming in schools.

After majority rule in 1994, the government introduced the dreadful "outcomes-based education", shut down the teachers training colleges, the school inspectorate, technical and vocational schools, and allowed the teachers union to become so powerful that in places you have to pay them if you want a job in a school.

Small wonder they were forced to drop the pass rate to 30% otherwise failed pupils would clog up the system.

Selected quotes from

schooling would be divided into three streams: Academic, technical vocational and technical occupations. Pupils would be channeled into a particular stream according to their individual strengths and weaknesses

“As part of the technical occupational stream, we will introduce 26 subjects, which will include spray-painting, panel-beating, hairdressing, woodwork, glasswork, glazing, welding, upholstery, husbandry (farming) and many more,”

The technical vocational stream would focus on gearing students to become artisans and master certain trades: “Electrical, mechanical and civil engineering will be the core subjects, with each of them having three sub-subjects….

Director General Mweli labelled the decision, taken in 1994, to shut down technical high schools, or reduce their subjects from 16 to 4 – as a “scandalous mist

Tidlösa said...

This may be off topic, but the subject was discussed on a previous thread. Concerning retro styles and Shakers, the Swedish furniture company Ikea will begin selling a new line of Shaker-inspired furniture. They say that more types of "traditional" furniture will be released this February.

A strange fluke? Or a confirmation that "retro" is the wave of the future? It´s interesting that a commercial multi-national company starts selling this - they presumably wouldn´t, if they couldn´t make a profit out of it.

Tony Rasmussen said...

Don't even know how to say this, probably I should keep my trap shut. Big fan of your writing/thinking and enjoy every weekly dose. However. The Lakeland Republic just seems ... a little too perfect. My alarm went off in the very first installment, when the kids on the train were quietly reading and perfectly behaved. Certainly you don't mean to suggest that in former times all children were perfect little angels...

People entertain themselves by singing, the food is better, the booze is better, everything apparently without exception is better. I guess they don't need police in Lakeland, there wouldn't be any crime because everything is just so doggone peachy in every way.

Yes, I realize the meaning of the word Utopia. Yet this scenario is presented as a possible future. And I know you have plenty of cynic in you. As you just noted to another commenter, people aren't rational (and my goodness, so many of today's Americans have gone completely off the deep end, rational-wise speaking). So, I have to wonder whether you believe a future such as this is actually a possibility ... or is this just a fun exercise in wishful thinking?

(P.S. Everyone noticed the Bowie reference; but I wonder how many caught the reference to John Cougar Mellencamp?)

William Hays said...

The school scene took me back. From 1957 to 1964 I attended a two-teacher elementary school in Tennessee. We had no running water, and a couple of four-seat outhouses served our sanitary needs.

In that environment I learned Base 5, Base 2, and Base 16, building a foundation for the use of computers later in the 1970s. We were near a major military base, so we learned what to do during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Honestly, I never expected to see my 16th birthday.

Older children can help so much with younger ones. We have lost some essential part of the family process along our way.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

The maddening inconsistencies in English spelling are partly due to its containing so many loan words from other languages, each of which has a different set of orthographic conventions (e.g., Greek, German and French). There are also words from English roots that are spelled similarly but pronounced differently (e.g, through, dough, rough, cough) and I suppose that has something to do with vowel shifts.

If you regularize the spelling to make it more perfectly phonetic like Spanish, it will be at the expense of erasing the etymological information. Does that matter to anybody but intellectuals? Yeah, it does. English is full of double, triple, even quadruple homonyms like rain, rein and reign; do, due, dew; there, their and they're. In spoken English, one must rely on context to figure out which word is meant. The meaning of the written sentence is clear if both the writer and the reader can spell.

It's really hard for an American to make out the meaning of a text written in sixteenth century Scots; the vocabulary is somewhat different from modern English but most of the difficulty comes from words that are cognate to both tongues but spelt differently. If the more radical spelling reformers have their way, all pre-reform English literature will be like early modern Scots; right down the memory hole. Goodbye, Shakespeare. Goodbye, New York Times. Goodbye the word goodbye. Good wood would rood rude wound tuned wound bound. Goodbye buy why sigh dye die aye eye I.

(I love my native tongue but I'm glad it's not my second or third language. Irregular verbs are disappearing from both spoken and written American English. I threw (throwed?) one in above just for a flourish.)

flute said...

Greg Simay and John Michael Greer: Yes, there is a correlation between spelling and dyslexia. Languages with "shallow" orthographies, such as Finnish and Italian, where there is a more or less one-to-one correspondence between sound and spelling, make it far easier for students to learn correct spelling, than languages with "deep" orthographies, such as English and French.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I also am sorry to hear about the internal troubles of the Grange. I have had only passing contact with the Grange but I respect it and its history. The Moose seem to be doing all right around here. Some members of my family are in a bluegrass band that plays gigs regularly at a lodge a bit south of my home, and the audience that shows up isn't totally geriatric. Another Moose Lodge provided shelter and meals to people burned out during our recent wildfires.

The only fraternal order I've ever been a member of is the OTO, which is not quite the model I'd want to recreate. I have helped start a couple of organizations of other kinds. JMG, I would be interested in learning the nuts and bolts of founding a normal fraternal order; that seems to be just what's needed.

Scotlyn said...

If I had been lucky enough to learn naturacy as a child, I would not now be its 55-yr-old apprentice, but at the very least a "journeywan".

And wouldn't I love to visit a feed and seed store that *isnt* fabulously well-stocked with all sorts of fearful poisons and chemical weapons as my local one, tragically, is.

Barbershop Bowie is a very fitting tribute.

Cherokee Organics said...


Yum: sausages and sauerkraut on big fresh-baked rolls! Yum! They sell that sort of food at the agricultural shows down here and it is a real sadness to walk by them - which I don't, by the way! :-)! And I'm a mostly vegetarian too. Yum!

Roosters are a pain for those that don't like early mornings. But then roosters are confused by moonlight too from my experience, so perhaps they are not such a good gauge of the time of day? I wonder if at some point in the future roosters will have to be shared around the community to ensure that genetics of the birds don't get too messed up? Dunno. What do you think about that subject? Clearly someone has to maintain roosters in a community. I've been wondering about that matter for a while now. It is hard to escape the realities of nature.

Pappas sounds exactly like a couple of old dudes I once met on a very long 18 day walk in Nepal. They would sit late into the night talking whilst drinking the local rum and then get up early and be the hardiest of the walkers. Honestly, I'm no slouch, but I was a bit in awe at their stamina!

RIP Mr Bowie. A very talented bard that one. The next lines of the song go - which I always liked too - He'd like to come and meet us, But he thinks he'd blow our minds. Nicely woven into the tale too. Respect. Well, some are mostly immune to their consultations. ;-)! We can only but try.

The historical information on corporations was quite interesting and I appreciate that. I’d always understood them from a train and railway point of view, but then that was what I was taught. They still transport grain around these parts by train to the silos - which are surprisingly not far from the centre of the city. I happen, by sheer chance, to get to see some of that action on a regular basis. It seems like an active business and the grain stores are huge!

Yeah. Teaching to the test is a disaster and stifles any creativity or independent thought that may bubble to the surface. Sad. There is more to life than a test. However, it is cheaper teaching to a test, but then I’m a natural cynic on such matters. Incidentally, I'm wondering how Mr Carr knows how to observe, reason and learn? It is an interesting point, but he is a mysterious and many talented character your Mr Carr.

In other news, the share market has really dived here. Reports are spruiking the stability of the job and housing market. And all three together - to my mind - seem to be very contradictory outcomes. Interesting times are here.

On another strange point it was 41.6'C (106.9'F) yesterday and then by the exact same time today it was 8.6'C (47.5'F). Brrr. I don't know what to make of such extreme temperature changes. Brrr.



PS: I've got a new blog entry up: Plastic unfantastic. I was hit by Gremlins last week who all decided to damage a lot of the watering systems here. It was uncanny - but now mostly fixed. There are strange fungi, growing tomatoes, seedling oak trees (yay!)and you can take a peek inside the experimental European honey bee hive which I built last year and now has a young bee colony in it. Plus the plums are ripe for fresh eating this week. Yum!

MigrantWorker said...

Good morning mr Greer,

And I also suspect that the children actually want to come to such a school. You get to meet your friends while learning things which make you immediately more valuable within your community; what's not to like about that?

Compare with modern schooling, where you basically learn for the sake of learning: to pass to the next class, to get to a better secondary school, then to get to a better university - and then, finally, for your good grades to have a minor influence on the choice of jobs available to you. For a six-year old faced with almost two decades within this system, the eventual payoff is completely abstract. No wonder kids rebel.


Matthias Gralle said...

Dear Mr. Greer,

I have been catching up on as many of your old posts as I can since I saw a link to your December 23rd post on the COP21 agreement in Paris. Please excuse if anything I post here has already been discussed before.

Your basic scheme of a long descent over 100-300 years seems quite plausible by historical and sociological arguments. The one doubt I have with regard to your use of Spengler is that Spengler compared his own moment, around 1900 CE, with the Roman Empire at ~100 BCE, i.e. he expected intra-European wars to end up producing a “Caesar” uniting all of Europe (and North America ?) during the 20th century under his personal rule. Caesarism was supposed to last until ~2200 CE.

Now, I am certainly convinced that we will all have to reduce our energy consumption way below where it is today, and our mobility even further. In my childhood in the 1980s, we lived in Sierra Leone on 2-3h of locally generated electricity per day, just enough to keep the fridges cool and to listen to an LP once in a while, so I think I can imagine part of the energy-starved future. In fact, I would appreciate living in your Lakeland Republic utopia (I don’t own a car as it is).

I wonder why you have decided to write a utopia that seems much more attractive than your earlier visions of Christmas 2050, and of Adam in Cascadia (I haven’t read Star’s Reach). Is it to draw readers to a positive destination instead of scaring them? By your own arguments, the Lakeland Republic could not stand the way it is in 2062 for a long time, since I doubt that it could reproduce its books, university curricula (advanced quantum mechanics!) or even steel and concrete at the needed rate if the rest of the world collapsed around it. That means it would be a temporary reprieve on the long descent, certainly a much more pleasant one for those of us alive today than your other visions. I have thought of Aquitania ~700 CE as compared to Britannia or Noricum. Please correct me if you think otherwise (Shandong in 580 CE, and Syria in 650 CE, had suffered much less and were already on the upward part of the cycle).

(part 1)

Matthias Gralle said...

(part 2)
On the other hand, the reason I read about your blog originally was because people criticised your pessimism with regard to PV, wind power etc. You once wrote that some people irrationally “get” the end of industrial civilisation, and some don’t. Would you exclude the possibility that you actually prefer for PV etc. to be an insufficient replacement for fossil fuels because you personally don’t like living in places like Manhattan, San Francisco, don’t appreciate art galleries, fashionable restaurants, high-octane nightlife etc. ? I don’t either - I live in a city of 12 million people and would much prefer a smaller community. However, there are people who love all of that and who would therefore not feel the instinctive preference for a more idyllic, Lakeland Republic-style future. Of course, all of this is irrelevant if the data are unequivocal on the maximum societal EROEI of renewable energy, but I would be grateful if you could post a link to recent calculations on that. What do you think about the 2000 W society ideal?

With regard to the _theoretical_ maximum efficiency of PV, Wikipedia on the Shockley-Queisser limit says ~30% for silicon PV and no realistic alternatives, while thermodynamic efficiency for the PV process is actually 86%. That means there is an off chance for some technological genius to create non-silicon based, cheap PV at much more than 30%, but I certainly would not stake our future on that. Still, it might make sense to sketch a future based on, let’s say, 60% efficiency cheap PV, just to show that even this unlikely outcome might not permit sustaining our current global society.

Wrapping it all up, I think the main difference between your predictions and the Ecotopia you have often criticised is this: you suppose that societal and political breakdown after peak oil would abolish things like high-technology silicon wafer and wind-turbine production EVEN IF it was thermodynamically possible to sustain our civilization with renewable energies supplying the overall consumption level we have today in Germany, New Zealand or at least Brazil.

Comments from you would be very much appreciated.

Matthias Gralle

Sunny Lord said...

Hello Mr.Greer,

This is slightly off topic but....
Do you plan to expand on your original paper on Catabolic Collapse? I am picturing a scholarly text with case-studies of dead civilisations.
As for school, my own impression is that the final decision to the content of education should rest with students, rather others deciding what's best for them. My own experience is that when I was compelled to 'learn' something I had no interest in, I would memorise just enough to regurgitate it during an exam and forget it by the end of the week.

Tony f. whelKs said...

You just keep making Lakeland more and more appealing. I'm just about old enough now that my memories of the first few years at school are closer to Hicksville than most kids today experience. As someone once hinted, time may change us, but we can trace time ;-) Nice evocation of one of my now lost Heroes.

And what I learned about barbershop quartets... I'd always assumed it was the staff who sang, not the customers. It's good to learn something new over breakfast.

--... ...--

Mikep said...

Hi JMG, some interesting ideas this week. The corporation formed in order to pave the streets is a wonderful idea but could it really work? Groups of persons coming together and doing something for their mutual benefit? In England that’s called organised crime!
The idea of schools existing to educate children is one that would never have occurred to me. Like most people I’d assumed that the state funded “education system” was simply a highly leveraged childcare structure provided so that both biological parents can be freed up to engage in economically productive activities. Any learning that occurred being simply an accidental by-product of the need to keep the “little buggers” occupied while they are incarcerated within the child storage facility.
I look forward to the next episode.

Dan Mollo said...

I think David Bowie nailed it with the line:

"There's a starman waiting in the sky, he said he'd like to meet us, but he thinks he'd blow our minds"

Humans do not have the mental facility, or even fortitude, to handle on a cognitive level beings beyond human comprehension. How do you try and formulate an idea about something that lives between worlds? If you do, do you either laugh yourself silly, go insane, or maybe just shrug and say, "oh, that's delightfuly interesting."

I sprung for the signed copy, I think one of the beasts better left unnamed canvassing the other addition was a friend of mine in my rebellious youth. ;-)

Mark said...

One of the few things I've read recently that makes me want to go back to school. I'd be interested in how the Lakeland Republic evaluates students for suitability for higher/college education. If most are going to be farmers, understandably, how do they filter out those who are strong enough academically to be more advanced college students. These days, it's pretty much assumed that all kids "should" go to college, even if it isn't a suitable path for their skillset. When I was a kid in England in the 60s and early 70s they still had the "11 Plus" system, where you took an academic aptitude test when you were 11 and if you passed (maybe 20% of students did) you went to a high school more likely to get you into college; if you didn't you went to a more technically-oriented high school to prepare you for work on farms or industry. That was considered horribly elitist and was mostly wound down in favor of a less selective system. I agreed with that at the time (it did seem unfair to decide a person's future when they were 11, with a simple school test). But, in retrospect, there is clearly a need to re-think our current college-level education mill: what is it for, who is suitable for it and how is that determined.

I'm just now in the process of helping my son get out of the college system: after a couple of years studying aquaculture he wants to spend more time doing something practical and hands-on. He loves aquatic life and is into aquaponics and other promising things. But, he says, he hasn't actually touched a fish since he was in high school - all he does in college is write about marine life and study it conceptually. Of course, re-balancing an economy to one in which a college degree is not particularly necessary is a big part of the challenge.

Mark said...

btw, maybe a fitting Bowie song for Lakeland would be "Quicksand", with it's "And I ain't got the power anymore" chorus! Plus it has a reference to the Golden Dawn for good measure.

Charles DeYoe said...

A greatly enjoyable post!
I feel compelled to share my favorite bit of information about barbershop music, something I heard on the radio while listening to a show that plays old phonographs:
It's common knowledge that in previous centuries, barbers used to perform surgery. For amputations, bloodlettings, or pulling teeth, the barbers were who most people would go to. But these were days before anesthesia and it's bad for business to have horrible screams of pains coming out of your shop all day. So one enterprising barber got the idea to hire a few random people to sing loudly in front of the shop to mask the screams. The music had to be fairly simple so that untrained musicians could pick it up quickly, and repetitive enough to be stretched on for a good chunk of time as the patient is wailing inside. AND THUS BARBERSHOP MUSIC WAS BORN.

The actual origins of barbershop music are lost to history and this explanation is almost certainly false. But it's so amusing that I love sharing it.

Dave Ruggiero said...

Thanks for another wonderful Retrotopia installment! I was thinking of you yesterday when I read this piece on the prevalence of suicide among affluent, brilliant teenagers in the Palo Alto school system - a good article overall, and a troubling one, on the emptiness these kids feel and their inability to handle the expectations heaped upon them. But the author mentioned a Steve Jobs quote one young person thought on to help get through their troubles:
“Everything around you that you call life was made up by people … and you can change it.”

A useful, and potentially lifesaving thought, perhaps, for someone feeling trapped by social pressures and stuck in a societal role they had no agency in - but also yet another sign of the modern trend to think of everything in the world as part of a massive machine run by and for the benefit of people. No sixth-grade graduate of Lakeland's naturacy curriculum could make that statement! They would recognize instead that culture, society, economic roles, the political process - these are all manmade, and changeable, but at some level "life" is bigger than us and we can only either work with it or work against it.

donalfagan said...

What sort of pavement on Main Street? Cut stone, bricks, cobblestones? Macadam wouldn't be nuts, even though the binder is bituminous.

Nice homage to Bowie. Do they sing, Alll right, he was a Young Lakelandian?

When I first moved to Maryland, my classmates told me all the action was at a feed store called Southern States Cooperative, or Sut for short. It was.

Bill Pulliam said...

From the equivalent of 3rd grade on I was schooled in what were then known as "alternative" schools (a.k.a. "hippie" schools). The younger classes were open classroom, rather similar to what you describe, even to the point of two teachers in every class. In high school it shifted to subjects and classes, but the classes were small interactive discussion format. They were more like 800-level doctoral seminars in structure than like conventional high school. It was far and away the best educational environment I have ever encountered directly or indirectly. The schools are still in existence and they retain most of their structure, but they have grown and become a bit more like prep schools in atmosphere. But that may just be the difference between the 1970s and the 2010s; some of the same teachers I had 40 years ago are still there. Tuition was MUCH cheaper in the 1970s than it is now, of course!

The economy you are envisioning for Lakeland has a pretty high level of self-containment and sustainability, and appears reasonably healthy (though clearly still somewhat experimental). But within your larger historical arc of the long decline, obviously you also envision it as ultimately contracting and simplifying further. So clearly it is still dependent significantly on energy subsidies, either from imports or from the embodied energy of salvageable resources. It is still industrialized, and I guess most of its metals would still have to come from salvage or trade. Just pondering what the other limiting resources are that will eventually compell further contraction.

Also interesting to me that so far we have seen secularists and christians. 500 years later in Stars Reach the religion seems to have grown out of something resembling deep ecology with a foundation in gaia worship. Do you imagine this as an actual progression, or are these just two different fictional scenarios you are playing with, no historical connection necessarily intended?

Chris Smith said...

Excellent Bowie reference, JMG! It made me think of the weird "future music" rearranged for quartets in Bioshock: Infinite.

But your description of the Lakeland school is maddening. My own son will start school in a few years at schools that provide what passes for education these days. Too bad he is more likely to be taught how to pass a standardized test than the 3Cs. I remember recess from elementary school (mine may have been the last generation to have this). You went out for fifteen minutes to run around, climb, and roughhouse, got a drink of water and went back to the classroom. At the time, I never appreciated how important recess was to the learning process. Now the solution seems to be to medicate the kids into compliance so that they will sit still and learn to take the standardized tests. Not to mention all of the fun we had blowing stuff up in different ways in high school chemistry (under responsible supervision and controlled conditions of course).

So yeah, maddening that we can't have nice stuff anymore like schools that work.

Shane W said...

Well, if you're going to put KY in the Lakeland Republic, then, by DEFINITION that's where the best bourbon in Lakeland will come from. :P
In reading I'll Take My Stand, one of the core functions of education was building character, molding someone into being a good citizen, and developing a sense of civic responsibility with knowledge gained in the Jeffersonian mold. I didn't know if you saw that factoring in to school's responsibilities in Lakeland, or if you thought it was more the responsibility of the home. It does seem that Lakeland cultivates more civic responsibility and duty to community than the norm.

Patricia Mathews said...

If the Atlantic Republic is anything like today's world, Carr must be thinking....

"They didn't even do a background check on me. What sort of security is that? Of course, without the metanet, they can't. Then how do they know I'm not a predator or a drug dealer? She said they had people in there all the time, including volunteers from the community. I'm sure they have some way to do background checks on the community people, though without being able to read their social media, ow can they be sure? And she never left my side, which is reassuring."

I say IF, because has there ever been a 40-year span of time in which the end was like the beginning only more so? Especially culturally? I've read tons of "If this goes on" science fiction in which this is so, but have seen even more cultural U-turns in actual history, several of them in person.

Just my $0.02. Here's $2 AR - keep the change if any.

bfrank said...


No need to publish this comment as it is a bit lengthy (and maybe slight off-topic).

I have a copy of a 1907 letter from my great-great aunt - it contains some details about their trip by rail (when trains were commonly used) and the neighborliness that existed in communities in those days. I thought you might enjoy reading it. My aunt was unable to read or write, so she needed a neighbor to write the letter. The spelling and punctuation are as the letter was written.

1907 letter (postmarked September 13) from Ellen Franklin in Wishart, Missouri to Lewis Franklin and his wife Ollie, sister Anna Nash, and mother Sarah Hopewell Franklin in Sullivan, Indiana.

Olie and Lue and Sarah and Anna and all the rest of the dear ones in Sulivan . I write to let you know we landed home safely. we left Terry houte [sic, Terre Haute, IN] on the 10th of August between three and four oclock in the afternoon and we landed at St. Louis a bout dark between 7 and 8 oclock just in time to catcht he west bound train. we landed in Springfield at daylight. so
you see we had to ride all night and we was very tired when we got there. we had to wait till eleven oclock for our train to Wishart. we landed in Wishart at twelve oclock where we was met by about a dozen of our friends and neighbors. we soon found that they had a dinner prepared for our coming and among all their goody goods there was a big pot of chicken and dumplins. you just ought to have seen me taking care of that chicken and dumplins. so we stayed in Wishart about an hour and chatted with our friends. then we started for home for one of our neighbors had met us with a team. and when we got in about a half a mile of home we run against another fine dinner prepared for us. but as we had dined in Wishart we had to wave this dinner by with many thanks. but when we arrived home Oh dear me. there was weeds six feet tall rite up a gainst the door step. but there was two of our neighbors come up and cut us a road from the gait to the house and from the house to the well now comes
the vegtables for my good neighbors has brought me vegtables of all discription. I aint had to buy no vegtables at all yet. and among the rest they brought me a lot of good butter sweet milk and sour milk and among all the rest twenty five chickens. now all these things I tell you of has just been brought and set down there. so I say hurrah for old MO. and all the good people thats in it. for I believe there is lots of good people in MO. now you can hand this letter to Anna when you read it, for it is intended for you all. for you know I have to get someone to write my thoughts for me. that is the reason I have to make one letter go so
far. now Lue about your Uncle Ben. he got sick in a week after we landed home and we had to call the doctor so he hasn't been well since. he has to sleep in the big rocking chair at night. he has smothering spells so he cant lie down in the bed. did your papa have smothering spells. if so what did you do to relieve him. if you know any thing good for the smothering write and let me know .
from your Aunt, to all our dear friends in Sulivan

Dagan said...

I work in a middle school. This hit very close to home. I wish that we could breathe some creative life into the system these kids are laboring under. It's worse now than it was for me and I'm not that much older than they are.

Also, thank you so very, very much for including a bit of a David Bowie music cameo. I've never been affected by a celebrity's death the way I have been by his, and I appreciate you working that bit in.

John Roth said...

While this is a bit off-topic for this week's post, you might want it for the climate change studies file:

I think the URL says most of it: the "long time" is at least 50,000 years, more likely over a 100,000. The reference to the actual refereed publication in Nature is at the bottom.

Raymond Duckling said...

Sorry Mr. Greer, but you have to be kidding.

You crazy gringos not only make poor children attend school the whole day, but on top of that you don't give them receses in between!!! Who's in charge of your education system, a cabal of sadists presided by the ghost of King Herod???

You could save lots of money if you just did away with the pretense of "teaching" and just give each child a 12 year jail sentence on the crime of turning 6. You could then give King Herod a posthumous peace Nobel prize on the revolutionary and humanitarian idea o letting young prisioners go to sleep at home with their parents, as long as they kept coming back to serve their due time each morning.

Glenn McCumber said...

"...human beings are not rational creatures -- nor will they ever be, nor can they be made rational without mental and spiritual mutilation."

Warmed the cockles of my heart this morning.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

As an educator, I love your snapshot of the Hicksville school, partly because I raised my own children along the lines outlined. I wish Mr. Carr could have spent more time there. I would have loved to have seen how art and music are handled, how the study of natural philosophy would be enhanced by time outdoors, how literacy, numeracy and naturacy would perhaps incorporate working on "fuzzy problems," related, of course to real-world situations. Even in second grade this can be done.

Of course I concur with the emphasis on print. In my own house we took this approach--including severely restricting screen time of any sort--and my children did grow up to be pretty good thinkers and self-directed problem solvers. (Ok, I'm boasting; pace any gods listening!) Not only are there in Hicksville similarities with Waldorf, as a commenter noted above, but also with suggestions for the education of children suggested by William Penn in the 17th century and John Dewey in the early 20th century--and others.

When I was a college instructor, it was a source of aggravation to me that many of my students arrived in my classes able to discuss the problems of the rainforest yet unable to recognize and name the birds, trees and plants of our own region, not to mention having any understanding of the broader ecological functioning of their home ecosystem.

In the decidedly non-utopian present landscape there are, happily, counter-trends. I have acquaintances involved with three radically differently situated private schools that are offering participatory, holistic education: one in a very poor Illinois community where parents pay on a sliding scale; one in a fairly affluent suburban Indiana community full of well-educated professionals; and one in the city of Chicago run by Quakers. All three are very small; children go there because their parents want a better education than is offered at either the miserable public schools (in the poor community and urban neighborhood) or, alternatively, the overly academically regimented approach of the affluent school district.

One can only imagine, in a good way, high school, college and the range of schooling combined with apprenticeships that might go into creating a well-functioning society of the sort described in Retrotopia. It would also be enlightening to know how Hicksville schools are funded and administrated.

hapibeli said...

The Lions of Galiano Island ,BC, had been fading, but just as the volunteer fire department there has been gaining new, younger members, a new and vigorous Food Program is growing stronger with local growers and a strong Saturday market, so has the Lions organization been gaining new younger talent with new ideas.
I'm willing to bet that the same is happening through out much of North America. One of my 30 something daughters, son-in-law, and two young children are starting a farmgate on his family property in upstate New York where he grew up. They left Portland, Oregon two years back in preparation for this life journey. Most of the public may be hanging on to that belief in eternal progress of mankind, but there are those willing to collapse as much as possible now before they are forced to.
There is hope when kids with kids see the fruitlessness of the current paradigm.

TJ said...

"...because human beings are not rational creatures -- nor will they ever be, nor can they be made rational without mental and spiritual mutilation."

That is a fascinating statement. Can irrational creatures long survive a technically complex environment? (Even if it is one of their own manufacture.) At its core isn't rationality simply a matter of understanding facts and constructing a world view that organizes those facts in a consistent manor? Facts are not truth, but facts and truth are closely related. So why should rationality be incompatible with mental and spiritual health? Indeed, if rationality can be described as handling facts with a bit of wisdom, and mental and spiritual health described as handling truth with a bit of wisdom, are the two not only compatible, but mutually supportive?

BoysMom said...

Now, that sounds like a school I could actually send my kids to! 2 million estimated home schoolers in the USA say something's wrong with the current options, and it looks like Carr's people took and continued them. I expect if it didn't come up here, it won't come up, and likely the author doesn't know, but I wonder if TAR allows home school, or if they've taken the German route and criminalized it. I suppose Lakeland allows home school, as getting kids to and from school would be a significant hardship in Tier One areas.

Howard Skillington said...

As a musician I am heartened to know that citizens of the Lakeland Republic are rediscovering the joy of making music together. There was a time, not so long ago, when any respectable middle class parlor featured a piano - and not just for decoration. In the Renaissance it would have been an embarrassment for a guest at a dinner party not to be able to sing one’s part in madrigals after dinner. A simple ocarina or harmonica served as the hand-held music players of earlier eras, and I can attest that the satisfaction to be derived from learning to make one’s own music far surpasses that of becoming an adept on a smart phone.

Thousands of those old pianos are still out there in back rooms or barns, languishing for want of someone to bring them to life. If some of them survive being burned as firewood in the difficult times ahead, becoming a skilled piano tuner could again be a good career choice in a Retrotopian future.

Revere T said...

JMG, have you given any thought to how America's indigenous population has fared in this future? Have the native people of the Lakeland region been able to reclaim some of their traditional life-ways? What about the the Pueblo people and other the other peoples of the drought-devastated Intermountain West?
Thanks as always for the stories. It's good to have something worthwhile to read on these otherwise-bleak Thursday mornings in the cubicles of the Empire.

Max Osman said...

It's a paper for oil scheme to be precise

> The root of problem is that the American economy has become a giant "paper-for-oil" deal. We buy energy, both directly as energy, and indirectly by importing goods made more cheaply in other nations where people command a smaller bundle of energy.[8] Goods from China cost less, not because Chinese factories are more efficient, but because Chinese workers have a smaller claim on resources than American workers. America prints paper - in the form of Treasury debt and US assets such as stocks - to buy energy from abroad.

>Because America runs an energy deficit, and must import it, and we cannot export other goods to others to pay for it, we run a trade deficit. It is a problem because there is one scarce commodity which all others are denominated in: oil. Oil is scarce, not because there is not enough energy in the world, but because it is so much cheaper to extract energy from oil than from other sources, and oil can be used to transport goods and people.

Chris Herrmann said...


I have a question not directly related to this particular installment, but applicable to the general storyline: the Lakeland Republic seems to place great importance in the minimization of taxation, while allowing for input from county constituents regarding the direction their taxes will head. In this future you envision, how do inter-county infrastructure improvements get funded? I'm thinking, specifically, the rail system our narrator rides around on.

Forgive me if this has been asked already. Hope you're enjoying your time in western Maryland!


Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160114T170906Z

Thanks, JMG, for this peek into Lakeland curriculum. Perhaps you will have more to say later, with reference to the final post-secondary years? Some of us will be curious to know what level of proficiency is achieved in the last secondary-school year in two key languages, Latin and German, and by what percentage of that graduating cohort.

On Latin, I hope I will be forgiven for expressing a bit of unease regarding two mottoes which have appeared on ADR this week, in the comments higher up on this Web page.

(1) Vot meenz "In servitium libertas"? Could Shane W give us the intended meaning? Unless I am missing something, this is not grammatical. If the intention is to say "Liberty in service", "Liberty in the act of serving", "It is in the act of serving that we achieve liberty" (a laudable idea), then we need "In servitio libertas." (The problem is here with "in": "in" requires the ablative if it expresses thing-within-which, and can only take the accusative if it expresses thing-into-which - as when we say "Vado in aquam", with accusative "aquam", for "I am making my way forward INTO the water"; "Vado in aqua", with the noun in the ablative, is, rather, "I am making my forward IN the water.")

(2) Vot meenz "Splendorem lucis viridis"? Could Eric Backos give us the intended meaning? Unless I am missing something here, this, too, is ungrammatical. If the intention is to say "The splendor of a green light" (a laudable idea), then we need "Splendor lucis viridis." Since "splendorem" is in the accusative, we look in vain in the offered motto for a verb for which that accusative noun is the object. - Admittedly, we could go on to supply a verb: "Demonstremus splendorem lucis viridis" is probably correct for "Let us show forth, let us exhibit, let us make-manifest, the splendor of green light." - The motto could, alternatively, be changed a bit, putting "splendor" into the nominative, and making it the subject (not the object) of an explicit verb: "Splendor lucis viridis luceat" would mean "Let the splendor of a green light shine forth," "May the splendor of a green light shine forth."

A little anxiously,

Tom (near Toronto)


Grandmom said...

@Martin in Sud Afrika - I worked on a USAID project in Swaziland that had been running 1988 - 1994 (I was there 1991-1994 - interesting time with witnessing Mandela's release and the hope that brought. I saved several newspapers that capture the debate, picking of a new flag, constitutional talks, etc). The USAID project was to implement the American educational system in Swazi schools, rewriting curricula, streamlining and more testing. I don't believe Swaziland is any further ahead than your country.

mgalimba said...

Dear Mr. Greer,

As someone who works on the slightly unconventional end of conventional agriculture, I protest that rather cheap shot at conventional agriculture, despite its being made in the service of the greater good of advocating for "naturacy" as an essential element of education, which I couldn't agree with more.
Even the most conventional of conventional farmers are acutely aware of weather, soil, plant physiology and growth patterns, etc. even as "get big or get out" market forces often require a farmer to abuse resources in order to stay in business within this profoundly unbalanced civilization in which we all live. Not only do conventional farmers know dirt and water in their bones but are constantly learning more with an intensity that is perhaps not apparent under the necessary stoicism...


Helix said...

@Cherokee Organics re roosters: In my experience, roosters do very well with only a minimum of care. If they're allowed to range freely in an area with trees, they'll even find safe roosting spots at night. In all cases, chickens should be allowed to range somewhat freely during the day unless you're into industrial production. I think that should take care of their genetic needs.

As an aside, I've noted that chickens speak the same language everywhere, even in Nepal. At least that's the case in every country I've had the chance to encounter them, and that's quite a few countries now. I'm guessing that most chickens came originally from a fairly small local flock, but even so, the divergence in language down through the generations seems to be small indeed.

Grandmom said...

Surely there must be mentorships, internships, some sort of apprentice system to bring young people up in the skills needed to live in a hand-made world? And those would start at 12, 13 or 14 depending on the maturity of the child? Classrooms with their need for implication, abstraction and no room for failure are a poor substitute for learning real world skills.

I've always jokes that the reason school teaches art, metal shop, wood shop, cooking and sewing is because they want kids to hate it and never want to do it again. The teachers and curricula and compressed time frame of 45 minutes make it impossible to actually learn with the inevitable mistakes and trying different approaches. Everything is scripted and rote so the student is just robotically going through the actions of making X. In real life you are missing items, tools break, wrong amounts are used, and the environment isn't perfect. Thinking on your own and problem-solving required to adapt, change and succeed.

hhawhee said...

BTW, Public-good corporations still are a thing: the isolated rural midwestern town of 300 people where my mom and one of my brothers live has a Community Development Corporation and they have the most amazing city park (basically one huge leafy walk around a body of water and through a restored prairie, with some plantings dedicated to residents past and present) and a complex that includes a playgound, a bunch of recently constructed guest cabins, and the remodeled 1890s-era township hall for public and private events. I'm sure they'd be up to maintaining the streets if it came to that.

Grandmom said...

My technology changed "simplification" to "implication" - classrooms have a need for simplification. Obviously.

Grandmom said...

This article, "The Public School Failure", written in 1880 could be written today. Please don't tl;dr it. Read it. Then pick up your laptop after you throw it across the room and read it again. Look at the 1860 statistics on crime, pauperism, insanity and suicide in the states that had implemented a public school system vs. those states that had not implemented it yet (that force would come post Civil War). The world would have you believe that the issues of the public schools are recent, have happened only in this generation, and that with more funding(!) all its problems can be solved. The problems of public schools have been around 150 years and will always be with us as long as they exist.

Patricia Mathews said...

On books and schools: My granddaughter goes to The Bosque School in Albuquerque, an expensive private school which seems more geared to Lakeland's style of learning than our own. For example, the students are all involved in a larger project to study the waterm ecology, etc of the Bosque -- our riverside woodlands running through the middle of the city. I found out by accident recently that she is studying Latin.

I, being made keenly aware of the need to downsize because her mother is in the process of moving her granddad (my ex) to an assisted living home close to where they live, and realizing that the days of getting any added value out of many of my cherished books was past, offered my granddaughter my old Latin textbooks and reference books, hoping she might have some use for them. She was delighted and told me the school could always use them! Then I asked if they could also use others, and set aside my two ecology textbooks and my book on reason and the scientific method, which again she was delighted to have.

There comes a time when the best use one can make of such books is to pass them on to the younger generation. The next one out the door is Aesop's Fables, to my youngest grandnieces. Alas that you can NOT get a copy of those without the canned moral tacked neatly onto the end, rather than letting the kids figure out and debate the points of the story. What a thought-stopper those canned morals are! And not always true for all times and places. A Medieval Scandinavian could put up a very good defense of Walt Disney's take on "The Grasshopper and the Ants" - when the hall is wintered over, you *need* your bards, your skalds and skops and storytellers. Yes, indeed, THAT sort of discussion. (And a pox on the neat-minded 18th or 19th Century (or Roman or Greek?) writer who wrapped the tales up in socially approved wrapping paper.

OK - end rant. Mouth running faster than brain in cold weather.

James M. Jensen II said...


At its core isn't rationality simply a matter of understanding facts and constructing a world view that organizes those facts in a consistent manor?

Speaking from my own experience and viewpoint, I have two comments:

1) Facts are not neutral in practice. What we count as a fact depends a good deal on the worldview we are busy organizing.

2) Worldviews have a tendency to close over our heads, as we mistake our mastery of the abstractions that make up that worldview with mastery of the world itself.

In my experience, it's quite often the people who devote themselves to being rational who end up the most unreasonable and unbalanced, as their devotion to their abstractions lead them further and further from sanity. (See this article for an account of how the LessWrong community managed to get themselves really worked up over a very silly thought experiment.)

Bob Patterson said...

New US Navy vessel damaged by unexpected threat - waves

Shane W said...

you'll hafta ask our other (known) Central Kentuckian, as I just copied & pasted it from her! LOL

pygmycory said...

Sounds like more than a few went to unusual schools of one kind or another. Me too, for about four years. The one I went to was an Alternative School, which meant it was in the public system and funded by it, but was run in a very different manner. It was a 'non-coercive education', which meant you picked what you learned and there were no grades. It worked better for some students than for others. Some who'd spent all their energy at regular school fighting the teachers actually came to class and started learning, while others chose not to learn much.

I liked it because there was a much wider acceptance of difference and that meant I stopped getting bullied. It worked better for elementary school than highschool, as it was quite difficult to find someone willing and able to teach math and science at that level, and a lot of the other students weren't that interested.

Elementary schools in BC still have recess. There's also a lot less in the way of armed guards and the like in high schools than I understand there is in the US. Overcrowded classrooms and underfunding are significant problems, as are fights between the teachers union and the provincial government. Falling academic standards, teaching to the test, and college admissions craziness are also a problem here. I've been doing some reading on the subject recently, and it sounds like it started later in Canada than in the USA, but is headed down the same path.

The above paragraph is in case you wanted another datapoint.

Shane W said...

Awesome touch--black woman with braids, nice to see in Hicksville...

Shane W said...

I was volunteering as a tutor for immigrant children in a screen saturated library where most of the kids wanted to read corporate sponsored books. I found it very depressing and did not return this year. I'm not sure if you try to "go against the tide" and change things from within or throw in the towel. I'd love to hear how others cope with the System in regards to ed, even though I don't have kids, I've found it rewarding working with them. Are any of the homeschoolers looking to help parents of less means avoid the system pitfalls? I wonder if homeschooling is just limited to parents, or if they might be open to non-parents who want to have an effect on future generations...

Jim R said...

Interesting to read that some Mellencamps survive until 2065.

Point of curiosity: what is the approximate human population of north America in 2065? And what is the population of the Earth?

Bike Trog said...

Not quite on topic, but too funny to not mention: Some new US Navy ships were built too weak, and also the generators fail.

. said...

I wish I'd learned all those things in school! I might start my daughter on the preschooler version of that curriculum although some poor worms are likely to be squashed in the process... What do they do about teaching religion? It's an absolute mess of a topic at the moment with faith schools in Europe.

And I don't suppose you could skip ahead to how they deal with 'political' religion? People here are either going with denial, the same old non-solutions or else looking for quick and easy answers. It's not pretty.

Mallow (who can't work out how to change my name back from dot sorry!)

Shane W said...

English speaking peoples can be very resistant to change on certain issues, maybe that explains the intransigence on spelling? Consider how resistant Great Britain and the US have been regarding metrication, money (decimalization in Great Britain, anti counterfeiting, switching dollar bills for coins, and the penny in the US), among other things. Maybe the archaic spelling is a cultural symptom?

Cherokee Organics said...


Forgot to mention the developing power situation in Tasmania which is of some interest. Tasmania is an island state to the south of the state of Victoria and is separated by a 300km (about 190 mile) stretch of very rough shallow water. It used to be a land bridge which the roaring forties now rise over and across.

Anyway, that island state gets most of its electricity from hydro-electricity. In a sensible move a few years back now a large DC electric cable was laid across Bass Strait to connect the island up to the national electric grid. Electricity can be sold in both directions. It is very clever really.

However, just before Christmas the cable was damaged somewhere along its length in the rough seas. And apparently the contractors reckon it may take two months to repair.

This long repair time wouldn't usually be a problem, except with the heat and lack of rainfall down here, the dams are running low. 21.2% to be correct. Farmers are screaming for the water to be released to them. People still expect to have electricity. It is quite the circular problem and no one seems to have any answers because perhaps there are no answers. Most water in dams below about 12% - I believe - is not particularly useful as it is very low in oxygen and probably contains a lot of particles to boot. Anyway, it is an interesting look into how contradictory outcomes can't be achieved in an era of declining resources.

The article can be found here: Minister dismisses Opposition claims of power rationing with Hydro Tasmania dam levels set to fall to 16pc.

It is weird isn't it?



Sylvia Rissell said...

Do sheet music salesmen visit barber shops often? Perhaps a strong, pleasant singing voice is an asset for a traveling music salesman, as a shop owner is more likely to purchase music he or she enjoys.

Mr Greer, I own a few leather bound books, but the price for the collector's edition of your new book is a bit out of my price range. I hope they find some appreciative collectors!

PatriciaT said...

For fans of the late David Bowie, a retrospective of the artist's music was played today on an Albuquerque local public radio station KUNM-FM (89.9). The two week archive can be reached here.

KUNM-FM Online Audio Archive
archive for Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 starting at 1:30pm

BoysMom said...

Shane W.
Home school has quite the variety. I do it on a shoe-string. If you use the public library system wisely and shop smartly you can do it for very, very little. Who would be open to you will depend on what you want to do and what your personal philosophy is. Some of my friends would require you to agree with their beliefs. I wouldn't go that far--I'd simply want you to not engage against our beliefs. Each state has different laws about how home school can work. While HSLDA tends to be a bit extreme for my tastes (if they'd stick to legal defense and stay out of lobbying not-home-school issues I'd be happy to pay up and join) they have an excellent overview of the relevant laws.
If you seriously want to help home schoolers, ask your local public librarian (every home schooler I know makes use of the library's books) if they can put you in touch with anyone who home schools. Failing that, start asking parents you know. They estimate two million of us. Everyone knows someone who home schools now. It has to be an estimate because some states don't keep track of us.

MIckGspot said...

“About ten years ago, some of the business people in town got together, organized a corporation, got a charter from the legislature for it, and used that to raise money to pave six streets downtown. A lot of people contributed, and not just people who live in town. So the streets got built, a fund was set aside to repair them, and the corporation wound up its affairs and closed down.”

I got a good soapbox for that one, bear with me please?

In my little neighborhood of the North USA most of the houses were built in the 1890s. The houses are great! Mine has beautiful materials that are no longer available except through salvage. (The birds eye maple that I walk on is now used on the best musical instruments).

A concern of mine is the sewer and water supply systems in my area that per my research were built around 1890. The Minneapolis city sends crews out regularly to handle problems, hardly a day passes without one of their construction crews in the neighborhood.

Sewer and water are tough sells in the now, concern for future generations even tougher.

Why? Peoples brain chemicals are not jacked by such. If you bring up Electric cars or bemoan how many people get hit with bullets in the USA even though car accidents still take out more people, (Woah!).

SLClaire said...

Since I haven't had time to read all the comments recently I didn't know about issues with fraternal organizations. But I do have experience in the last two years with helping to begin a new Zen center in greater St. Louis. We went from a handful of folks sitting in each others' homes to a leased center, $14,000 in the credit union account, and a resident priest and teacher in that time. But of more interest to you, JMG, is that my husband Mike and I (more Mike than me though I actively supported him in the effort) advocated successfully for the use of Robert's Rules of Order to govern our board meetings, persuading the rest of the board members to use it rather than consensus process. And it works great; our last board meeting was only one hour long and we got a lot done!

Re schools: two new middle schools were built in our district over the past several years. After they opened, members of our community association were invited to tour the one nearby. One of the three principals (there is one for each grade) conducted the tour. It was creepy. The principal extolled the security system. There is one floor per grade level, with student IDs color-coordinated to the color scheme of each grade so the staff can tell at a glance if a student isn't where he or she "belongs." The administration office is in the center of the school and has glass walls so the administrators can watch students at all times. Students have 90 seconds (!) to get from one class to another and have to ask the teacher for a pass to use a bathroom. Of course there are security cameras everywhere. The principal took us to a science classroom, which had an exposed ceiling. The acoustics were horrid even for our group of quiet adults. The library had low bookshelves so, as we were told, no students could hide out there without being seen. And so on. Mike and I were aghast. He started making his disapproving comments to me loud enough for the principal to hear, but the man, if he heard them, pretended he didn't.

Carl Dolphin said...

Dear JMG, off topic but new findings on why Greenland is melting faster than previously thought.
It seems warmer temps equals melting, which equals more clouds, which equals more melting, more clouds, etc. Nice positive feedback loop going on with no way to stop it till all the ice is melted. Not sure if my 65 ft of elevation is going to cut it.

onething said...

Is it really true that schools don't have recess anymore? That seems impossible. If so, when did it happen?

Christophe said...

TJ wrote, "Indeed, if rationality can be described as handling facts with a bit of wisdom, and mental and spiritual health described as handling truth with a bit of wisdom, are the two not only compatible, but mutually supportive?"

Your description of rationality works pretty well; however, your description of mental and spiritual health are only useful if by "truth" you mean the output of the models we use to filter out the various values and assumptions competing within our minds. As John Michael suggested, that kind of "truth" has to be brutally mutilated to fit inside the constricting box of rationality. If anything, rationality is a tiny subset of that kind of "truth", being only one of the varied models we use to filter our minds.

More than anything mental and spiritual health seem to describe finding a balance between our innate emotional impulses and our recently developed intellectual capacities within the context of our limited awareness of our ever-changing ecosystem. Intangible, constantly adapting moral stories, models, and myths are probably the best tools our species has for attaining the dynamic balance we call mental health. Alas, those fluid stories and beliefs go through a natural cycle of petrification into dogma, both at a personal and cultural level, rendering them also into the best tools we have for destabilizing the dynamic balance we call mental health.

Hence why our own and our culture's death is finally such a gift for each of us, and more so for our offspring. It is not only our physical health that eventually becomes too brittle to be able to adapt to the constant change life requires. The fracturing of the dogma of the modern worldview occurring all around us is another example of a destabilized rigidity returning to dynamic balance, i.e. a crazy world returning to mental health. It's a very traumatic process akin to death.

Once one set of beliefs comes to define us, "truth" no longer describes the output of the models we use to filter our minds -- "truth" becomes the models themselves. Rationality is an attempt to turn the rational model into The Truth, though we are not and never have been a rational species.

onething said...

The only unusual school I went to was called hooky. God, how I hated school. I got into the gifted class in junior high, which was significantly better, but I still ditched 1/3 of the days in 8th grade and then I dropped out.

There are some homeschooled kids in this area. They meet at the farmer's market once a week because there's a park there. My husband and I have taken an interest in two of the kids, actually one of them, and we are starting to think up things they can come over and do, and will probably work with them in math. If winter ever starts, we'll show them how we make maple syrup.

Shane W said...

Fletcher was critiquing the public school system in his piece in I'll Take My Stand. In it he criticizes the public school revolution by Horace Mann that started in Massachusetts and became the template for the public school system, and its spread to the South. For one, he claims that it is geared to an urbanized, industrialized population, and not appropriate to an Agrarian, rural population (considering that we all realize that we're all eventually going to be deindustrial, this is no small point) Like most, he says that public schools are there just to process and promote students, and do not take into account discernment and the willingness or capacity of the student to learn, as well as not accounting for building the "whole person"--cultivating thinking, civic engagement, or the other goals of a liberal arts education. He lays out the old academy system of the South and argues for it, while noting its many flaws. He questions the necessity of providing universal education for all students, and the quality of public school education.

Carl Dolphin said...

@ Chris, since we were remembering David Bowie, I watched his Let's Dance video on utube. Maybe you'd understand it better. it was filmed in the Australian outback in a bar and the wilderness. Then a young aboriginal boy and girl go to the big city to work as a maid and a factory worker. That doesn't work out so well, and they make it back to the wilderness and dance on top of a cliff. Actually now that I'm typing it out, it forsske some sense, but doesn't really have anything to do with the lyrics.
It's worth checking out just to see Bowie singing in an outback bar with lots of local characters. Bet that didn't happen everyday.

Anthony Romano said...

I"m not sure if this went through so I'm re-submitting. Please disregard if it's redundant.

Bowie in a barbershop was a delightful touch following the loss a great artist. In high school I had friends who loved Bowie, but I just didn't get it (at the time I was infatuated with working class punk bands). A decade passed and as my musical tastes diversified I realized how incredibly talented and influential he was. He will be missed.

If you don't mind I have question about your writing process. I haven't read your novels, but I have read The Wealth of Nature and realized how heavily you drew from your blog posts for that book. I'm curious what your editing process is like in adapting narrative blog posts to a novel? Are you just laying the bones here and planning to expand on the ground you've already covered in earlier entries?

The one critique I have of Retrotopia is that it is exposition heavy at points (in particular some of the autumn entries). The film adaptation of this story would occasionally involve actors looking directly into the camera and explaining things to the audience.

I realize you are using this as a forum to present an alternative vision and that requires a certain amount of explanation to clarify the goings on. I will say that some of the Meriga post from years ago avoided this shortfall.

I hope you don't read this as an attack or unfounded criticism. I truly have been enjoying Carr's journey. I'm just curious how different the final product will be. And again, having not read your novels I don't feel I have an adequate grasp of your fiction chops.

Much thanks from Denver.

John Michael Greer said...

Deedl, I didn't have the Waldorf system specifically in mind, but what I've heard of it so far seems sensible enough.

Yucca, sure, but I didn't ask about the consequences of spelling reform on language learning. Greg Simay suggested that spelling reform would allow students to devote more time to "concepts and reasoning," and I was asking if he'd looked into that. Myself, I suspect it would have zero effect on reasoning skills, in that societies with reformed spelling seem to have no better luck than those without.

Martin, I applaud the return of technical high schools, but it shouldn't be up to teachers and bureaucrats to decide which students go where. Let 'em figure it out for themselves!

Tidlösa, fascinating. Thanks for the data point.

Tony, the point of utopian fiction is to show the upside -- in this case, the upside of things that normally get tarred with as many imaginary downsides as possible. It so happens that a lot of things *are* better when done in the ways appropriate to an earlier time -- the useful term "crapification" has been coined to describe the way that our current economy profits from the debasement of products, services, and people. Of course the Lakeland Republic has crime, social troubles, maldistribution of income, and assorted other cooties -- the thing I'm trying to do with the narrative is to get people thinking of "retro" as a practical strategy for improving their lives rather than a fashion statement.

William, exactly. Those small, underfunded, locally controlled schools provided a better education than their sparkly, modern fantastically overpriced equivalents.

Unknown Deborah, and way back at the roots there's the fusion of several distinct dialects of Old English that gave us a random assortment of plurals and verb endings. No question, it's a mess, and the ordinary processes of linguistic evolution will straighten things out in due time, if American English isn't simply replaced across the board over the next ten centuries by some distant descendant of Spanish enriched with Japanese loan words from the refugee settlements along the left coast.

Flute, none of which has anything to do with the point I raised, which was a question about the correlation between reformed spelling and reasoning skills.

Unknown Deborah, my book Inside a Magical Lodge covers that in quite some detail -- you just ditch the chapter on magic and you're there. It was based on my experiences with the Odd Fellows and the Grange, as well as the Golden Dawn -- I wasn't a Mason yet when I wrote it.

Scotlyn, granted. Somebody's got to start things rolling!

Cherokee, yum indeed. I think some of us are quite aware what we're going through!

MigrantWorker, exactly. I've always loved learning but I loathed school, and it wasn't anything like as bad when I went through it as it's become since that time.

Chris Smith said...

@ JMG: OK, fine, you got me. On the strength of "Star's Reach" my wallet is $50 lighter. Then again, it's not like I'll be donating that money to George RR Martin anytime soon.

As for being rational, my own experience is that rationality is great for plotting a course from point A to point B. But values, emotion, and (dare I say) karma are what determines where your point B lies.

Leah Gayle said...

Dear Tom, thanks for your help with the Latin translation. My son wasn't home and I tried Google translate. The idea was, as you figured out in spite of my failed efforts to express it, that by means of service we achieve freedom - as opposed to the current idea that freedom means not having any responsibility to your community or environment. Hope that makes sense...

John Michael Greer said...

Matthias, we'll be discussing the place of the Lakeland Republic in the wider arc of the decline and fall of industrial civilization as the story progresses. As far as my supposed dislike of big cities, etc., that's actually not true at all; I'm basically a city boy, and enjoy urban life a great deal. If there were good reason to think that a modern society could be supported on renewable resources, I'd be pleased; in the real world, though, hard realities rooted in the laws of thermodynamics mean that that's not going to happen, and pretending otherwise does nobody any good.

Sunny, I don't have any plans along those lines, no. As for education, one of the things a good teacher can do is show you why something is worth learning!

Tony, thank you.

Mikep, both of those things are based on actual practice in 19th century America, so yes, they can work.

Dan, thank you for buying a copy of any kind! The unnamed beast really doesn't mind, though -- I think it sheds its skin annually, when it gets too rugose...

Mark, college admissions in the Lakeland Republic are by competitive examination. Schools aren't designed to funnel children into any particular occupational category -- they're there to provide an education in literacy, numeracy, and naturacy, as well as such other topics as civics, history, and languages, that will make it possible for graduates to function well in society. Those who want to go to college and are willing to work hard to make that happen generally succeed, but most have no interest -- many of the professions that now require college degrees (teachers, general-practice physicians, engineers, lawyers, accountants, etc.) are filled by apprenticeships in the Lakeland Republic, so the notion that you have to go to college to get a good job has dropped completely out of circulation. You go to college because you want to pursue one of the learned professions that really do require that kind of education, and not otherwise.

As for Bowie songs, it would probably be possible to make an entire Lakeland album out of his work! ("TVC-15" as the Atlantic Republic theme, for example...)

Charles, funny. Nah, barbershop quartets got started because men used to gather in barbershops before work to get a good shave, singing was a common entertainment, and so it became customary for the guys to do a capella songs while they waited for their turn under the razor.

Dave, I get that. If I hadn't somehow picked the bulletproof conviction that things were going to be better once I got out on my own -- as in fact they were -- I'd probably have thrown myself under a truck at some point during the utter misery of the wasted years I spent in public schools.

Donalfagan, the street is paved in cut stone, and yes, they sing that song, too, but with the original words.

Bill, good -- you're paying attention. As I noted in response to an earlier comment, we'll be talking about the broader trajectory later on. As for Star's Reach, nah, this is a different future -- in the Star's Reach future, the United States of America continues to exist in name, while in the Retrotopia future, the Second Civil War came much earlier and the Union ceased to exist when it was over.

Chris, when you say it's maddening that you can't have schools that work, have you considered the alternatives, which include helping to create schools (outside the current education industry, granted) that do work?

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

JMG, thank you for the book recommendation. The Odd Fellows seem to have been more widespread than the Masons in northern California in the second half of the nineteenth century, judging by symbols on old tombstones. They are still around, and they went fully coed a few years ago, though they do not seem to be thriving. If your book is partly based on your experiences as an Odd Fellow, that gives it additional interest for me.

Compared to the way fraternal organizations have declined in numbers and influence, service organizations like the Lions and the Rotary seem to be doing well. Their activities are covered by local newspapers, and one sees highway signs with symbols of multiple service clubs when driving into towns of any size. Can you explain what the differences are between service organizations of this kind and fraternal organizations, and why the former seem to have coped with social and economic changes better than the latter?

John Michael Greer said...

Shane, I prefer Kentucky bourbon myself, but you can't expect a city councilmember in northwestern Ohio to agree with that, if it's her hometown bourbon we're talking about!

Patricia, good. Yes, I'm sure he was thinking something like that, not least because he half expected armed guards in the halls.

Bfrank, I hope you don't mind my publishing it anyway, because it's a charming bit of American history and one that might cast a very different light on life before the age of the internet et al.

Dagan, either the current public schools are going to change, soon, or they're going to die. My bet's on the latter. That being the case, have you considered looking for a position outside the public school industry, where you might be able to have more influence on the educational process? As for Bowie, you're most welcome.

John, interesting -- now they're admitting that we were on track to have an ice age, just as those supposedly nonexistent scientists claimed back in the late 1970s...

Raymond, I'm sorry to say that that's the way things are done these days up here in Gringostan. I've read, by the way, that the Mexican public school system is considerably better than ours -- is that true? If so, once things fall apart here, we might be able to import some competent teachers and administrators from your side of the Rio Grande to do what our current public schools don't do -- that is, provide an education to children.

Glenn, you're welcome.

Adrian, good -- my hope is exactly that, to get people imagining something different than the failed mess we've got. As for Lakeland Republic schools, they're entirely funded and managed by local school districts governed by elected school boards, subject only to a very modest degree of oversight by government -- the system that gave the US some of the best public schools in the world in the first half of the 20th century.

Hapibeli, delighted to hear it. Have you joined the Lions? If not, why not?

TJ, the rational mind is a very recent evolutionary construct perched on top of a superbly adapted primate nervous system and brain. Like most new releases, the rational mind is riddled with bugs, and though it can do some very impressive things, it also tends to run off the rails catastrophically on a routine basis, producing models of the world that are perfectly self-consistent and logical but fail to model the experienced universe in a galaxy of disastrous ways. The conscious rational mind is also unstable, working in fits and starts at the best of times. Most human mental activity isn't governed by rational schemes, but by genetic programming absorbed by the species over evolutionary time and cultural programming absorbed by the individual in childhood. Far more often than not, that irrational programming is better adapted to life in the real world than the abstract models the rational mind uses, because it's been debugged by selective pressures over time. This is why, for example, "book learning" is so useless in most practical contexts, and why attempts to make the world behave according to some rational scheme so consistently end in disaster. More on this in a future post.

BoysMom, home schooling and little one room schoolhouses are standard throughout the rural areas of Tier One counties -- the eight room schoolhouse in Hicksville is a very common small town design, while bigger Tier One towns such as Defiance have several small primary schools feeding into one larger secondary school. As for the Atlantic Republic schooling system, we'll get more about that indirectly -- Carr will be visiting a private school in Toledo in a couple of episodes.

John Michael Greer said...

Howard, here in north central Appalachia you can get a decent upright piano, tuned and ready to play, for $199.00 at the local keyboard-instrument store. You can get an electric organ for a good deal less. By one of those improbable accidents you can't get away with in fiction -- there was one here in the house when we moved in, and all the local Masonic lodges have them for lodge music -- I've been learning how to play the electric spinet organ; I hope at some point to graduate to the parlor organ or melodian, which is the same thing with a foot pump substituting for the electricity.

Revere, that's a good point, which I haven't explored yet.

Max, but there again, you're paying attention to only one part of the problem -- even if it's the foundation, you don't understand a building if all you examine is the foundation.

Chris, the railroads are privately owned and built, by way of limited liability partnerships of the kind already discussed. As noted in one of the early episodes, the only things local governments own are natural monopolies, such as electricity grids, sewage systems, trolley systems, and consumer banking. The national government stays out of business altogether, so it can exercise its proper economic function of maintaining such basic regulation as is needed to keep abuses from happening. Everything else is up to entrepreneurs and the private investors, small and large, who fund them via stock and bond purchases.

Toomas, the most common second language in the Lakeland Republic is Spanish, which is rapidly becoming the lingua franca of trade and culture throughout the western hemisphere in 2065. Chinese, Russian, Brazilian Portuguese, and Quebecois French have become common subjects of study since the embargo ended, largely for the sake of trade, tourism, and international relations. German? A European language no more relevant to the middle of North America than Polish or Italian. Latin? A dead language no more relevant here than Sanskrit or classical Chinese. (I quite understand that things are different in Estonia, and also in the Estonian diaspora.) Mind you, you can study German, Polish, Italian, Latin, Sanskrit, and classical Chinese at Lakeland universities, should you be minded to do so, and I'm sure that the Goethe-Institut has a nice facility in Toledo somewhere close to the German embassy; it's just that the focus of education in the Lakeland Republic is not based on Central European models.

Mgalimba, you might want to go back and reread the post before yelling. I didn't say a thing about conventional farmers; the comment was about corporate farmers -- specifically the absentee-ownership model, very common these days, that buys up large acreages at low prices, uses them as a cash cow, puts nothing back into the soil, runs crop after crop until nothing will grow, and then simply walks away. There'll be more about that as we proceed.

Grandmom, er, you may want to go back and reread the post, because two apprentices made a rather visible appearance in there, and that might be thought to answer your question.

Hhawhee, true enough. When the corporation laws were twisted out of shape for the benefit of the railroad interests, they somehow forgot to ban the older kind of public-benefit corporation, so it's still an option.

Grandmom, and yet a century ago those same public schools provided an objectively better education -- measured in dramatically higher rates of effective literacy and every other measure -- than the public schools have today. Of course public schools of all kinds have problems; the two points that get lost in such discussions is that, first, so do all the other options, and second, the problems of public schools have gotten much, much, much worse over the last half century or so. It's the latter that I'm primarily addressing here.

Unknown said...

re Tasmanian power and water problems

the following opinion piece in the Hobart Mercury newspaper illuminated the matter more fully than the argy bargy between politicians.

I suggested to my dairy farming employers today that it might be a good idea to buy and store enough diesel to run the emergency gen set for a couple of months now, while the price is at the bottom of the cycle, just in case.

On the positive side, sort of, the mining industry is a major power user and is having problems moving product so a forced slowdown in production might be a timely thing.

It could be about to get worse than Cherokee knows though, on Wednesday evening there was a persistant lightning storm that has started fifty fires in remote bush land. It is tinder dry here and if those fires are not extinguished before the next frontal system blows through in about four days there will be potential for a very big fire, especially if those fires join up. The prevailing wind after a front is from the southwest and those fires are to the southwest of the populated NW Coast. My little farm is on the way.

Congrats on another excellent installment. Such skillfully distilled wisdom is so hard to find these days.

eagle eye

John Michael Greer said...

Patricia, in this age of word processing and print-on-demand publishing, if you think there should be an edition of Aesop with no canned morals at the end, why not make one yourself and publish it?

Bob, that's impressive. The F-35 may actually have some competition.

Pygmycory, thanks for the datapoint. For what it's worth, I went to a pseudo-alternative "open concept" elementary school for four years, and it was even worse than the ordinary public schools I attended the rest of the time.

Shane, my working guess is that the Second Civil War shook up the population good and proper -- refugee camps and squatter settlements everywhere, most of the cities of the Midwest abandoned during the worst of the fighting because of government bombing raids and food shortages -- and in the aftermath, people of every color and ethnicity you care to name were pretty generally scattered all over the Republic.

Jim, good question. The population of the former US is lower, but I don't know how much lower.

Bike Trog, I wonder how many more news stories like this it will take before people in other countries giggle helplessly at the US military.

Dot/Mallow, curiously enough, we'll be getting to sectarian schools and political religion in the fairly near future. Carr will be going to Sunday services at the Atheist Assembly in Toledo, and there are plenty of questions to ask and answer...

Shane, no doubt.

Cherokee, weird indeed. I wonder how much of it is that the politicians don't want to admit to anyone just how hard a time Australia is going to have as the climate changes.

Sylvia, of course! That's why there are only 26 copies of the really high-end edition. There's always the signed hardcover, and if that's beyond your touch, in due time there will be a trade paperback edition.

Patricia, thank you!

Mick, and yet planning for the future used to be common. It's not a matter of brain chemicals; it's a matter of specific cultural shifts, which need not be permanent.

John Michael Greer said...

SLClaire, delighted to hear about the new Zen center! That's the thing about the old rules of order: ***They work.*** A well run meeting using rules of order is fast, well organized, and effective, and if it's done right, informal consensus backed up by the option of majority rule yields decisions everyone can live with. As for the school, no surprises there: if you simply assume that American institutions are motivated by a hatred for children and a terror of freedom, you'll anticipate their actions every single time.

Carl, in your place I'd be moving to higher ground. Did you hear that there's a hurricane in the Atlantic right now -- yes, in January -- and it's headed straight toward Greenland? I don't want to think about what warm air and torrential rains will do to an ice sheet that's already disintegrating...

Onething, it got phased in over the last few decades. We can't have children wasting time playing, when we could be cramming them full of the answers to multiple choice tests! I hated school too; if I'd had the chance -- my parents were schoolteachers and would have ratcheted up the price to whatever would force me back into the classroom -- I would have done what you did. What I hated about it most is that it took learning, which I've always loved, and made it a dreary, empty, hateful activity.

Anthony, my fiction process varies from book to book. A lot depends on what happens when the whole thing's finished and I can go through it again as a single connected story; that's when I decide what needs editing, expansion, deletion, rewriting, etc. Since this is a utopian narrative rather than a novel, it's going to have more talking heads in it and less drama -- that's a matter of the conventions of the genre -- but we'll see how it turns out.

Chris, thank you! I hope you enjoy the novel.

Unknown Deborah, the Odd Fellows did indeed start admitting women, in 2001; my wife Sara was the first female Noble Grand (presiding officer) of an Odd Fellows lodge in the state of Washington. Of course the Grange has always admitted men and women on a basis of equality, since the organization was founded in 1867. As for service clubs vs. fraternal orders, even though my grandfather helped found a service club, Active 20-30, I've never belonged to one -- I'm too fond of the funny hats and elaborate rituals -- so I'm not at all sure how to answer.

. said...

Cool thank you. What about ethics? Here they're planning on adding to the curriculum for all schools a section on religion in general, beliefs including secular ones, and ethics. It's to be separate from existing religion classes in denominational schools. But can you separate out ethics like that?

The idea is apparently to:

"help children develop empathy with people of diverse religions and beliefs.

In addition, the curriculum will include education in ethics, focused on making choices and decisions in a way that considers the effect on others.

This will include learning about the dignity and freedom of humans, as well as the importance of human rights and responsibilities in society."

I suspect this is a thinly veiled attempt to counter what children are taught in religion classes in denominational schools, and in order to avoid singling out any minority religions it's being applied to everyone. A lot of problems get dealt with like that here.

But I don't know on what basis they decide which ethics they going to teach. Many parents would disagree fundamentally about what all those vague concepts actually mean.

It bugs me that children are being taught a kind of candyfloss and unicorns version of the world. Not that I would want them to be taught the truly grim stuff that happens in the real world, but this kind of cuddly, all about empathy, ethics surely isn't going to prepare them for real life?


Dave Ruggiero said...


I'd think that there may be some counties where a working knowledge of German would be a lot more useful than Polish or Italian. There are currently about 160,000 German-speaking Amish and Mennonites in the future Lakeland territory, and they'd probably only do better in the next fifty years given their historically high birthrate, likely objection to serving in the Second Civil War, and more or less complete lack of culture shock at finding themselves in a retro future. I wouldn't be surprised if some counties in NE Ohio and Indiana had a majority of Pennsylvania Dutch speakers in them (admittedly speaking a German that wouldn't inspire any confidence in a Central European university).

james albinson said...

WRT Ice ages... The ice age kerfuffle in the 1970's was largely confined to a few edge cases in the scientific community, most of whom changed their minds as new calculations of the efficacy of CO2 as a greenhouse gas came along, as well as improved calcs of the Milankovitch effect, and some widely publicised works such as Nigel Calders' "The Weather Machine and the Threat of Ice", and the linked BBC program. The popular works had an effect grossly disproportionate to their actual scientific content, unfortunately. I should know: I was an enthusiast for the book and the program... I later learned otherwise.

The current best understanding is that as of the end of the last major stadial, or Ice Age, we are now heading into an Interstadial, or between major ice ages. This interstadial will last about 50,000 years, and would have contained periods of cooling and warming, but NOT on the scale seen during a stadial. Over the last 3000 years before the industrial revolution we have generally seen a slight slow cooling consistent with the current Milankovitch cycle. This would have lasted for a few thousand more years before a slow slight warming; repeat half a dozen times. HOWEVER... humanity has dumped enough CO2 into the atmosphere over the last 100, or 50, or 25 years to disrupt these slow changes to the extent that the coming interstadial will be, probably, about 2 degree C to 4C warmer than otherwise. This is not good news. Furthermore the longterm persistence, of the order of 100,000 to 200,000 years, of the bulk of that CO2 will be enough to boost the average temperature of the NEXT stadial (50,000 to 100,000 years ahead) clear of widespread icy conditions, and even modify the stadial after that by 1-2C, which will be enough to warm an otherwise cold world significantly.
The wikipedia article on Milankovitch cycles is a reasonable starting point, and has references to websites that allow calculations of the Milankovitch effect for a million years or so either side of now. I would also recommend the website - the "Start Here" button for a lead into accurate climate change info.

Crow Hill said...

JMG: I was interested in your description of the original corporation. It seems it has been reinvented with crowd-funding.

Matthias Gralle said...


Sorry for presuming about your like or dislike of big cities. I can only say in my defense that your fiction and Green Wizardry posts have done their best to extol the joys of rural and small town life (and sometimes alluded darkly to the dangers of post-collapse big cites). If that is not your natural inclination, it makes it more impressive. I certainly look forward to hearing about the place of the Lakeland Republic in the Long Descent!

What do you recommend as a reliable and up-to-date source of information on renewables EROI since the Oil Drum has closed down? This is not the immediate matter of the recent posts and maybe less important than the sociopolitical consequences of Peak Oil, but still quite important for a reader to evaluate your predictions.


Matthias Gralle

Phil Harris said...

You commented: “… because human beings are not rational creatures -- nor will they ever be, nor can they be made rational without mental and spiritual mutilation.”

Yes indeed that is worth repeating at least every other day. ;-)

Curiously in a conversation in our household a couple of days ago, co-incidentally, I remarked that I did not really understand ‘rational people’.

Of course, and it’s not a paradox in my opinion, it has never been a good idea to lose one’s reason or sanity. Arguably, whole societies have demonstrated such catastrophic losses on occasion, and I guess it is only too easy for history to do it again.


Eric S. said...

"Carr will be going to Sunday services at the Atheist Assembly in Toledo, and there are plenty of questions to ask and answer..."

Something tells me that the Atheism of the sixties bears very little resemblance to the Atheism of the teens in its myth structure, organization, and philosophy. Is it something that would make the Atheists of our age swell up like toads and turn an interesting shade of purple after a few minutes sitting through a meeting and talking to some members about their worldviews?

Robert Mathiesen said...

Several comments: First, this post was actually painful for me to read on a visceral level. It brought home to me again how much primary education has changed for the worse since I was a boy. My elementary schooling (K-6) was in smallish schools very like the school that Peter Carr visits, and I got a lot out of it. The next three years (7-9) included woodshop, metal shop, print shop (yes, with movable type!), and mechanical drawing alongside of more academic subjects (including Latin). I did not mind going to school at all, and I positively looked forward to some parts of each day there.

Fast-forward 25 years, and both our children were basically imprisoned and burdened in by the school system, though there were a few shining exceptions among their teachers who actively subverted the regimentation, and were also savvy enough to cultivate independent bases of personal power among the families that let them oppose the school administration. But they were both intelligent and motivated enough to educate themselves outside of school. We had taught them both to read before they ever set foot in Kindergarten, which did give them a leg up.

Another 25 years down the road, and not one of our friends who teach in the public schools has had the strength to stick it out for a full 40-odd years until reachign retirement age. The public schools have become prisons for the teachers as well as for the students. And all this is driven not (as some politicians would have it) by teachers' unions, but by lawyers and risk-managers, who seem to be a huge part of every school administration these days. Even the other administrators seem to be trapped by these considerations.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Second, on English spelling. If it were to be massively changed, most young people would soon be unable to read and understand any of the billions of books that had been published before the change. As it is, even without any change in spelling, older books already pose something of a challenge to young readers in so many ways: spoken English seems to me (as a historical linguist) currently to be undergoing changes in grammar and syntax on the order of the phonetic changes several centuries ago that scholars now call "the Great Vowel Shift." If so, then we are in the middle of "the Great Grammar shift," which will eventually make Melville and Irving as hard to read without special training as Chaucer is now.

Also, English spelling is very far from the "chaotic mess" that would-be reformers like to claim. There is an underlying system for the "English" component of the vocabulary, and quite another system for the "Latinate" component, but each has its own rules. Knowing these rules, I found it almost effortless to teach my own children to read English aloud when they were about 4 years old, and they picked up the skill rather quickly. Of course, reading a written text aloud in your native language is by no means all that a child must eventually learn to do, but it is the basis for everything else in literacy and nearly everything else in education generally. We started our children reading with the "Peanuts" comics, which at that time were collected in thin booklets, wider than they were tall.

If one is curious about the spelling rules for English, a rather good source is Axel Wijk's _Rules of Pronunciation for the English Language_ (Oxford University Press, 1966). Another is Robert A. Hall Jr.'s _Sound and Spelling in English_ (Chilton Books, 1961). Each presupposes that you are fairly intelligent yourself, and can understand in fine detail how pronunciation and spelling differ in principle. And each uses a form pf phonetic transcription to make its points, so the reader will have to calibrate that transcription aghainst his or her own pronunciaion to understand what it means. (These are the books I studied before starting to teach my own children.)

Less technical, but almost as useful, is the "Guide to Pronunciation" published as one of the introductory articles in Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd edition (and only in the 2nd edition). A briefer, and even simpler, account of the same things is on the introductory pages of that ancient chestnut, Noah Wenster's Spelling Book. I have actually been thinking, on and off, of distilling all this in less technical form for parents who wants to teach their children to read before entrusting them to the tender mercies of the school system. I will probably do it once I have finished some other writing projects -- so not all that soon.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Third, for our European readers, it is worth remembering that the British colonies which became the United states were largely settled, up to the end of World War 2, by Europeans who came here to get away from a variety of things that they hated and feared in Europe, in its culture and politics and economics. Just as there is an old and strong tradition of anti-intellectualism in the United States, so there is an equally old and strong tradition of anti-Europeanism here. The elites in the 13 colonies, of course, remained hugely European in their culture, even when they openly rejected or challenged aspects of that heritage. But the masses ... ah, well, they tended to reject everything European uncritically, and forge their own home-grown replacements for it.

And there was also a sort of sifting process, at least in New England and the Mid-Atlantic States, during the period from about 1770 until after the War of 1812, when anyone who seemed too loyal to European (and especially British) institutions was forced northward, into what now is Canada. Often enough, the sifting was extremely violent, and some of the ones who made it to Canada were lucky to get there alive, with only what they could wear or carry in their clothes.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160115T154818Z

Dear Shane W and Leah Gayle,

Thanks for coming clean about the problems with your Latin mottoes (with Shane confessing in commendable candour to using his motto without knowing its meaning, and with Leah confessing in commendable candour to having attempted to capture her intended meaning through Google Translate).

One wants the Wizards movement to succeed, Latin and all.

But we may console ourselves with the thought that Latin errors abound.

(1) I made at least one - perhaps more than one - Latin error on JMG's ADR some months or years ago, and I cannot now even easily find what I posted.

(2) Some months ago, I entertained Cherokee on ADR by recounting the frightfully sad story of Myer's, a department store not too far from Cherokee's farm. (Myer's, with its immense "face" or Bourke Street facade, has to some degree tried to be the Melbourne equivalent of Harrod's in London - hence Cherokee's cited put-down for an excessively tall poppy, "More face than Myer's." Upscale Myer's, perhaps in the 1940s or 1930s, had to advertise a sale, and Myer's consulted an appropriate Melbourne classicist, and the classicist advised Nyer's to put onto their huge storefront banner the inscription Caveat emptor, and people around town kept asking the Myer's management in their blunt Australian manner "What's it mean?" or even "Don't you think you had better find out what it means?", and Myer's rang up the classics prof, and the prof reassured Myer's by saying "Oh that, Caveat emptor - yes, of course, that means, ah, 'For the discerning purchaser'.")

The Melbourne Latinist from whom I have this story is the late Gavin Betts, of Monash Uni (in the Melbourne suburbs, on the rail line from Flinders Street toward Dandenong). Betts's Latin intro book is in all the bigger general-trade bookstores here in Toronto, and I suspect across the Anglo world.

(3) Betts also told us, when I took his class, another quite good, although I regret smutty, story about Latin. He was one find day minding his own business, boarding a bus, when he suddenly noticed on the uniform or briefcase of a boy from some private school a school motto gone wrong. The school had meant to write Age viriliter ("Act like a man"; I think this is Saint Paul, as translated from the Greek in the Biblia Vulgata), and instead wrote Virile agitur. This amazing, completely porno, thing must have gone (as Prof. Betts stressed to us) everywhere: if it was printed on a briefcase or a uniform, it must also have gone onto such things as the school letterhead, the school ashtrays, the school souvenir letter-openers, the entire bleeding lot - ultimately requiring repairs mounting into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Cherokee might be able to comment further, but I for my part want to underscore here that Melbourne, or at any rate a vocal sector in the society of Melbourne, is noted for a prim, English propriety, in contrast with the matey tones of Sydney.

This Melbourne ethos, closely attached to the Old School Tie, is successfully lampooned by a Melbourne bloke-in-drag comic, Dame Edna Everage, these days visible on YouTube. Prof. Betts is briefly noted in the Latin Vicipaedia at "Caveat emptor" is of course discussed in many places on the Web - Wikipedia, notably, has articles in 16 languages.



(in Estonian diaspora, near Toronto;
in Australia some years ago)


Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160115T155404Z

PS: I add, following on from my posting a few minutes ago, a propos of Melbourne propriety (with the Old School Crest on this thing and that - on ashtray, on souvenir letter-opener) that I some years ago became the proud owner of a Monash University souvenir, in fact a pair of toenail clippers. On it was the Monash Old School Crest, with motto. Monash has. however, Michelangelo in place of Saint Paul, and has Italian as opposed to Latin: "Ancora imparo", "I am still learning".


Robert Mathiesen said...

And finally, fourth: JMG, this sentence of yours is pure gold:

"Human beings are not rational creatures -- nor will they ever be, nor can they be made rational without mental and spiritual mutilation."

It should be chiseled over the doorways of every building on every college and university campus, and every research institute. Branding irons with it would also be a great idea.

Grandmom said...

@Shane Read the article I posted again. Your summary is off.

@JMG Of course the literacy rates were higher in 1880 than now; the scientific management of children didn't begin until closer to 1920. The more studies and experts we apply to education, the worse it gets. The only people who had a decent public school education were those at the outer reaches of the system - like the commenter here who had latrines and one room school house basically. Schools have become massively centralized prisons with kids bussed in for an hour ride or more because it is deemed more efficient with better cost-savings. Kids are tagged, tested, tracked and sorted.

The public school system will be the last thing to fall, like the US military. It is the biggest employment project in the country, taking incredibly average people and paying them salaries usually twice what they could get being employed anywhere else in their community today. It is the biggest food buyer, book buyer, computer buyer and cleaning supplies buyer. The sports teams are a central part of rural community social life.

The more the schools fail, the more money we pay them to try to succeed. Teachers hardly get evaluated, all get raises no matter what, and they can retire after 25 years of employment. It is quite the racket. It is so good that USAID has worked to install this system in other countries. It's a great way to redistribute wealth.

Catoctin Mountain Mama said...

Dear JMG,

As a former classroom teacher, this was one of my favorite installments of Retrotopia.

Three cheers for Lakeland Republic's brilliant curriculum. I love the apprentice idea, particularly since it helps decrease teacher/student ratio. I have taught in classrooms as large as 36 students and as little as 4. Even with a ratio of 1:10, I have found some students still occasionally slip through the cracks.

Now that I have two very active little girls of my own, I see how essential frequent recesses are for children.

I taught for several years at a small, private Friends School. We did many of our lessons, during the cold months, sprawled out on some cozy rugs. My wigglers were very appreciative. When the weather was nice, we headed outside to do lessons. Sunlight and fresh air usually put everyone in a good mood, ready to tackle those Math problems.

We also had an outdoor classroom, of sorts, with tree stumps for seats, down by the creek. It was lovely.

No one was meant to sit at a desk all day!

I wasn't able to do this when I taught at a public school in Dallas or in Baltimore City. My hear aches for all those children trapped indoors on beautiful days, forced to sit in chairs, stare at screens and spend all year frantically studying for one test.

My eldest will be eligible for Kindergarten in the Fall. I want very much to homeschool her, unfortunately, my husband is very resistant to the idea. We'll see.

Personally, child-led learning resonates deeply with me. For those interested, the Project Based Homeschooling blog and book are great resources.

For those interested in alternatives to public education, check out the Sudbury schools. There is one in Baltimore, a mile from my sister's house, I've been meaning to visit. Arts and Ideas Sudbury is the name.

This post has inspired me to dig out my family's old encyclopedia in my Mom's basement. My four-year-old has so many questions that I can't answer off the top of my head. I spent much of the late '80s and early '90s pouring over our encyclopedia for inspiration for dress-up ideas. Good times.

Many thanks for the important work you do, day in and day out.


Shane W said...

One of the myths of the public school system, in the traditional sense of the word, as covered by Hollywood throughout the years, is that of the troubled, discouraged kid(s) who gets turned around by a dedicated teacher who never gives up on him/her/them. It takes usually two forms, either the troubled delinquent(s)/gang banger type(s) who gets turned around through persistent efforts, or the kid(s) with learning disabilities or other reasons to be labeled "stupid" that gets turned around by similar persistent efforts. I think it's telling that the law was labeled "No Kid Left Behind", as an idea where our goals are. But if resources in the future are short, and needs and demands are long, we may have to reassess this myth. With finite resources, it may not be prudent to spend so many of them turning around the most needy, especially if its at the expense of those ready and able to learn. The onus may be back on the "delinquent" to conform to society's expectations and not to "be reformed" by the system. The kid with learning difficulties presents another challenge, but it may be like diseases and medicine, that we've discussed here before, that hard choices will have to be made.

mgalimba said...

Dear Mr. Greer,

Deepest apologies if it seemed like yelling, didn't mean to. Yes I see you say corporate rather than conventional. I just know many extremely smart conventional and yes, even corporate, farmers and plant breeders (some of whom even work for Monsanto et al) who care deeply about the environment, the soil, and humankind, who just have to take so much abuse from people who don't know the first thing about agriculture but have been whipped into foam-at-the-mouth fear by social media memes. I'm glad you're going to expand and will be sure to read carefully.


Varun Bhaskar said...


I used to skip school constantly when I was a kid, sometimes I would just get up an leave during the middle of a class because I got bored. At other times I would ignore the teacher and sit around reading a book completely unrelated to class. The teachers and administration were deeply unhappy about my behaviour and finally contacted my mother. When they told her about my book reading habit she was just confused as to why they would try to stop me from reading. She asked me where I went when I skipped, and I told her I went to the library or book store. My mom called the school the very next day and told them to leave me alone. School administration left me in peace after that.

My only regret is that I wasn't as disciplined as am I becoming about my studies. I just read tons of stuff in a verity of fields, but never focused on any one topic.

I like the apprentice program for teachers. It makes so much more sense than the current model.



Robert Mathiesen said...

PS to my previous post:

Robert A Hall Jr's _Sound and Spelling in English_ seems to be freely (legitimately!) available on line at The whole pamphlet is only about 36 pages long, so it's a quick and easy download.

Shane W said...

kinda off topic, but do any of the successor Republics go metric? My guess is that the strength of that push is past its prime now that we're into full-on deglobalization. That, and the fact that the old measurements were ancient, more intuitive to people, less abstract, and more easily divisible (fourths, eighths, sixteenths, thirty-seconds) Still, considering that we've maintained pounds, miles, ounces, gallons, Fahrenheit this far, what's your take on them in the future?

Steve Thomas said...


I really enjoyed this one. Like, I suspect, many people here, I love learning (and am very good at it) and absolutely DETESTED school. As it is I'm 32 and I still shudder when I walk past a pubic school, and I do my best to avoid even going near one. Also, you probably already knew that Bowie had some experience with practical occultism, specifically in the Golden Dawn tradition. I read a clip of an old interview in which he name-checked both Dion Fortune and AE Waite. But I didn't know this until the day after he died! Very sad.

@ SLClaire-- I'm interested in hearing exactly HOW you persuaded a group of that sort to use Robert's Rules instead of consensus. I have experienced meetings run by both methods and we both know which one actually works... but I wouldn't know where to begin persuading the sort of people that would be interested in a zen center that the rules are a better way to go. There are a number of local projects in my area that I think have good intentions but I won't participate in them because you couldn't pay me to sit through another consensus meeting.

As for the school... I wonder if the principal had ever encountered the word "panopticon"?

Genevieve Hawkins said...

I love the naturacy teaching. My husband is Thai--he knows how to grow plants, build and fix a well, build and stock a fish pond, build a house from wood in the forest, find mushrooms and herbs that you can eat--so many things he learned from his family growing up. He is aghast at how little farang (westerners) know how to do. "Why don't they teach anything in school?" He asked me. I had to tell him at some point that as a product of my Toledo public school education, I was taught that all plants that grow out of the ground naturally are probably poisonous, so I should only buy my food at a grocery store. It's not much of a stretch....

Shane W said...

RE: Gringostan, I prefer the term "Jüerolandia", myself. I prefer to be known as a jüero, has a better sound to it, I think :) said...

About 5 years ago, I had a forward-thinking principal at my K-8 school. He asked me to start a design program — basically, an umbrella term for just about anything I felt like teaching. It's now a bit of a grab-bag of skills during the academic day: graphic design, book design and bookbinding, some simple carpentry, some simple sewing, some computer programming, some tool-repair and sharpening work (of stuff I buy from yard sales). Kids as young as kindergarten are building toys out of recycled or up cycled materials; third graders learn to knit and make jewelry (beadwork and wire-wrapped stones mostly) and spin wool; fifth graders learn some sewing skills - making a pencil case, a sort of jacket/tunic thing to learn how to read a clothing sewing pattern, and to use a sewing machine, and a lunch-bag. Sixth through eighth graders build some basic furniture pieces out of wood like peg boards and game boards. and design projects for kids in lower grades than them. The program is five years old at this point, and it's spun off some additional work in board- and card-game design, in model-making, and in architectural models built of paper and chopsticks bought in bulk. We've also done some hand-building of electronics - an AM radio or two, learning how to build batteries and make lights light up and motors move and how to build electromagnets; and some chemistry like soap-making, and so on. A girl in one of my classes built a proportional model of a Greek temple this week using nothing but the Golden Ratio and the Pythagorean theorem to cut her parts from plywood and wooden doweling. It's extraordinary.

A large measure of the success of this kind of program is that a teacher must put their own standing on the line, and decide that hands-on skills are important (because what the hands do, the mind understands). And then you have to be prepared to argue for that work, day in and day out, for years. After five years, I've won this particular battle — it's had an extraordinary effect on our students, and everyone from the board to the parents to the children knows it. But it's very much a personal mission for me — without the person do lead the program, me, I have very little confidence that the program could continue.

jean-vivien said...

Hi everybody,
I have been checking every day this week. The big business indicators, DJIA, NASDAQ, S&P... have all been red throughout this whole week. Just after the Chinese market slump.
So far the French media are hardly touching the issue at all, but Reuters today on its website does not take pinchers to point it out. It looks like a serious crash. I don't know how it will unfold in the USA, but here in Europe my guess is that it will close down a few more companies and throw even more people into unemployment's throes. What's hard to predict is how this level of crisis would compound with the many more stresses now affecting European countries...

Shane W said...

I meant to say "No Child Left Behind"

Grandmom said...

"Your first mistake might be assuming that people are rational.
Your second mistake could be assuming that people are eager for change.
And the third mistake is assuming that once someone knows things the way you know them, they will choose what you chose."
-Seth Godin

pygmycory said...

I agree with Jean-viven that the stock market looks to be renewing its crash. I don't know how it will interact with the other European stressors, but I doubt the results will be good. My best guess is it will make changes already occurring happen faster, and some of today's elite are going to find themselves out of power, out of money and sidelined by events.

I think this 2015-? round of financial/economic trouble is going to hit Canada much harder than 2008/09. Our economy is not going into it in nearly as good circumstances. The low energy prices are really thrashing Alberta and the Canadian dollar, and some housing markets are ludicrously unaffordable (especially Vancouver, Toronto) to those who live in the area. In a lot of ways I wonder if this may be for us a lot like 2008/09 was for the USA. That didn't hit us nearly as hard or as long as it did the USA. I can't see us being one of the lucky ones this time around.

pygmycory said...

Andrewbwatt, that sounds like an awesome class. Your students are lucky to have you.

Shane W said...

I remember when Columbine happened, thinking, "oh, this means schools will turn explicitly into prisons." When I was in school in the mid-90s, I thought nothing about keeping a carton of smokes in my locker. Even kids without smoking permits would light up in their cars before they even left school grounds. I can't imagine what happens to kids today if they get caught with a pack of smokes or a can of dip. Kids on the yearbook staff were able to leave school to sell ads. Even though it's gotten worse, I felt like middle & high school was a prison sentence.
To those who homeschool out there, is there anything to help the less fortunate from being trapped in the System?

MIckGspot said...

JMG said "Mick, and yet planning for the future used to be common. It's not a matter of brain chemicals; it's a matter of specific cultural shifts, which need not be permanent."

TY for a different lens to view such things.

I've had opportunity to speak one on one with US Senators on the subjects of peak oil and resources and got the usual hand waving, glazed eyes and babbling about electric cars and such. That was about 10 years ago.

Will give a shot at looking through the lens of impermanent cultural shifts.

roberta actor-thomas said...

JMG, how can I contact Deborah Bender? From what she wrote about the Moose Lodge that put up evacuated folks during this past summer's fires, I know she's right in my neck of the woods!

Mean Mr Mustard said...


While researching the particular aircraft more generally, just found another excellent supporting article for your upcoming analysis of the many benefits of running a radically simplified military.

The splendid pics show the latest fleet now being prepped for Afghan use. But the Super Tucano with the sharksteeth actually belongs to the Dominican Republic. Their small fleet are used to deter drug runners en route to the US - apparently with great success. Hence the drop tanks for endurance, and the .50 cal mgs mounted in the wings - so far, so Mustang - but then see there's the sensor gimbal behind the nosewheel - for night detection and evidence gathering. Or pinpoint targeting if toting munitions, if needs really must. What more could you ask for..?



Maureen Lycaon said...

@james albinson -- Not to beat the subject of a future glaciation/interglacial period into the ground, but an excellent book is After the Ice: the Return of Life to Glaciated North America, by E. C. Pielou.

Cherokee Organics said...


Please accept my apologies. I was so busy going: blah, blah, blah, that I completely forgot the following:

Congratulations on completion of your new book. The leather bound editions sound beautiful and it was a thoughtful touch. You've been alluding to that style of fiction for a while now, and I was personally wondering whether you had that idea in the back of your mind for a few years now, or did it arise at the time that you wrote the blog entry? Either way, you are a prolific author. Respect.

Given your natural gifts with languages, you'll probably pick up the piano quite easily (maybe). Music is really just another language.

Alas, I must sit back and wonder at such things from afar as they are a bit outside my reach. To be honest my head is stuffed full of the details of plants, animals and all the systems here...

Speaking of music I was cutting up the summer fruits for my breakfast when a silly interlude to your story popped up into my imagination: I do understand the David Bowie reference, but the customers could also have been signing an ode to the Atlantic Republic in the form of Billy Joel's song: "Allentown". If you were unaware it is a prophetic song about the developing rust belt written more or less at the time! It may surprise some of the readers here that Billy Joel was considered a punk way back in the 70's. A very talented musician that guy.

I probably would have sung a bit of Pink Floyd, or maybe even the Smashing Pumpkins: Yes, despite all my rage, I'm still but a rat in a cage! :-)! But then I enjoy today's Indie releases too when few my age seem to.

Oh, sorry also forgot. My gut feeling is that down here in the southern hemisphere, the climate has shifted south, so Tasmania may be getting my more usual sort of summer... Certainly things are weird. As an interesting comparison too, I keep adequate reserves of everything when storing energy from nature because there is no other way to do it.

Hi Helix,

Thanks for your experience with roosters. I've met some pretty nasty customers in my time with that lot, but also some quite gentlemanly roosters - and I can't pick which will be which. Also if they free range, they will be eaten - no doubt about it. The powerful owls will get them at night, if the foxes don't climb the trees first!

Hi eagle eye,

Best wishes for your safety. I've been wondering about the climate shifting south as the tropics seem to have expanded this year. What is your view on the ground about that? Certainly I seem to be getting southern NSW weather, which is very weird...



August Johnson said...

JMG - I happen to have been very lucky with my experience with the American Public School System when I was in High School. I truly hated most of my classes, but had a couple of wonderful teachers in my Electronics and other Shop classes. My Electronics teacher was very smart and realized that some of his students were different, we were pretty much allowed free reign to work on whatever we wanted, what I learned from my father and in this class did more for me than anything else. About 5-6 of us were always waiting at the classroom door when Mr. Hall arrived in the morning and we were in his classroom after school until he left.

Same kind of teacher, Mr. Hazzard, in Welding (Gas & Electric), Machine shop (Lathe, Milling machine) and Metalworking (Sheet Metal, Forging, etc.) If it hadn't been for these classes in my high school years, I don't know how I could have survived!

One other great teacher in my Algebra and Trig class was Mr. Battle. He really knew how to get things across. He'd spend about the first half of the period introducing a subject, then the second half he'd lead a class group discussion on how this was used in the real world and how to do it. You left the class with a real appreciation of the subject.

As far as the Mexican education system, I can't speak for today, but back in the 1960's when I was in 4th grade, I spent a few months in an English-speaking school in Puebla, Mexico. It was an eye opener then to see that the same grade Math in Mexico was at least a grade ahead of what was being taught in the USA.

I also remember when the "New Math" came out in 5th grade, my father going into the Principal and giving him hell over the BS that was being taught for Math, my father's minor in college was Mathematics.

About 10 years ago I had a friend that was a 3rd/4th grade teacher. For math, I was astounded to see how badly math was now taught. Each week was a different section, one week they'd be doing the 6x table, the next week division of fractions, then the 4x table multiplication of fractions might be 4 weeks later. Amazing to take the multiplication table apart and present it as separate, un-related parts. There was NO showing how anything tied together, related things would be taught months apart. Nothing to show how one thing built on another. I couldn't believe anybody came out of that class knowing anything! She had no choice in this, each week was planned out ahead of time.

hapibeli said...

I must admit, that were it not for Skype over the internet, our granddaughter in Ohio, would have little idea of who we were save for photos and "no video" phone calls. As long as the internet is around, I hope to be able to contact her daily, as well as her younger brother who is in his 7th month of gestation.
There will likely come a time if we live long enough, when we won't have that technology, though I am an amateur radio operator and have asked both my kids to get hold of simple handheld shortwave radios so we can communicate as systems devolve.

Auriel Ragmon said...

Dear JMG:
Given a reduced population in the Lakeland Republic, and a healthier environment,
what proportion of children are diagnosed with austism spectrum disorders?

Jim of Olym

hapibeli said...

Varun Bhaskar sounds like me in high school in 1969. I received 212 hours of detention and had a grade point average of 1.6 out of 5! hahahahahahahaha! I loathed school! Only wanted to go to college and be with adults...went to Vietnam instead...hahahahahahahaha!

Glenn said...

We had been prepared to home school our daughter, due to our location. But the neighbor's daughter, 10 years her senior, had been attending an alternative program through the public school, and she was a good advertisement for said program. Eleven years later we are pleased with the results, and our daughter is now attending Community College as a high school Jr. through Washington State's "Running Start" program.

On another topic, a friend of mine forwarded an advertisement to me for a wood burning heating stove with thermo-electric capabilities. It is of a size to heat a medium to small house (claims 1,700 sq. ft.) and once up to temperature will produce about 60 watts at 12 Volts DC. Modest, but usable power; perhaps enough for a couple of LED lights and charging one of the ubiquitous electronic devices. It will come as no surprise that it is Russian.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Caryn said...


Thanks for this entry. Happy to be back with our Mr. Carr on his 'look-see' through the LLR. As a primary school Art teacher, I, like Patricia, (Thank You, Patricia, well said!) would have loved to linger in the classroom a bit longer to see how art and music are integrated into the coursework. If I may be so bold, I would respectfully suggest, in any rewrite - you may adorn that simple, clean, bare 2nd grade classroom with the children's artwork as related to the current subject unit. Displaying the children's artwork is very powerful in instilling a strong sense of belonging and accomplishment.

Our schools, (The British international school I work at and my own kids' American international school) have a more complex array of subjects, even for younger grades, including once a week: art, music, Chinese, PE, religion and computer tech. Cookery and gardening are integrated in the science and math curricula as they are hands-on applications to these disciplines. Apart from the size of the schools and array of subjects integrated, the Hicksville School seems very familiar and fairly similar to our schools. I have come to learn that both of our schools' administrations have both had to fight to maintain the old fashioned, slower, age-appropriate "whole-child" approach against the great tide of getting ahead earlier and earlier!, manic test-prep, 24/7 study and exclusive emphasis on STEM, STEM, STEM! (Science and maths above all else). As you can imagine, here in Asia, that great tide is supremely strong among many Tiger-Mom/Dad parents as well as governmental educational oversight boards. Ironically, both of our schools consistently rank academically, amongst the highest in the world.

I also wanted to let you know that my youngest son, a HS Sophomore, is currently learning peak oil theory in his humanities course, (his favourite course!) From our nightly dinner conversations, I'd be shocked if his teacher is not very familiar with your work. I will ask him, next time I see him. This is fantastic. My son is really reformulating his ideas about his own future; what he will do, how he will function and thrive in a 'lesser' economy. The best aspect is that he doesn't see this as a bad thing, just a different thing. It's not doom and gloom, just different options and expectations for him to aspire to.

Thanks again!

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160115T233433Z

Oh wow, errors to rectify, from earlier postings today.

It may be Myer or it may be Myers or it may be Myer's. Yowee. And I think the saying is "More front than Myer/Myers/Myer's", not "More face than". And I am no longer so sure of Bourke Street: Lonsdale Street is another possibility.

If you are supremely wealthy, flush with petro-dollars, that place in London where you pick up the necessities of your life is not Harrod's but Harrods (to be written without apostrophe).

Further, it seems in retrospect NOT rhetorically effective to construct a narrative in the conjunction-heavy style "p, and q, and r, and s, and t," as I did when discussing the Caveat emptor banner.

Rather glumly,


PS: On the Melbourne ethos and the Old School Crest: brooding upon my various errors and making supper tonight, I did recall something rather happy, which kinda-sorta reinforces the Old School Crest theme. I recalled at supper that not only is there a line from Flinders Street Station to Dandenong (with Clayton as the Monash University station, roughly half an hour out from Flinders Street), but additionally that it has been possible to enjoy Gilbert and Sullivan, or similar, from the "Dandenong Light Opera Company". "Dandenong Light Opera Company" - there is a deliciously incongruous, deliciously Melbournean name. One imagines Dame Edna Everage docking at her balcony seat, and the violins tuning up in the pit below her, as a white-gloved conductor strides to his podium, ready for HMS Pinafore.

Caryn said...

Shane W., "...The onus may be back on the "delinquent" to conform to society's expectations and not to "be reformed" by the system. The kid with learning difficulties presents another challenge, but it may be like diseases and medicine, that we've discussed here before, that hard choices will have to be made."

I may be off on this, but I don't think a lot of 'extra' financial resources are actually needed or useful in turning a troubled kid around or helping along one with specific learning difficulties. I suppose that would depend on how severe the difficulties. IF the initial resources are spent, as illustrated in this story and as predominantly practiced in the school I work in; max. class size 24 kids, 2 teachers, or 1 teacher one full time in class TA, 1 parent volunteer per day or 1 teaching apprentice. IOW: 3 adults for 24 kids. A sane schedule, including recess, lunch break, sitting on the carpet/story time, as well as the smaller regular breaks from desk time: check on the garden/butterfly or meal-worm farm time.

With 3 adults, (and JMG is totally on target - they don't have to have very much training, they just have to have a modicum of intelligence and to care) per 24 kids it's actually pretty easy to get to know each kid and their strengths and weaknesses and specific issues very well.

Both of my kids (haha probably like 99% of all kids!) were 'diagnosed' with one learning difficulty or another and after a battery of expert tests and consultations, at enormous expense we clueless, over-anxious parents dutifully doled out… the result was, "Yes, he has difficulty in this area" (yeah, I knew that) the SOLUTION however was simply the same as it would have been in my grandparent's era or any era: "He's going to have to find coping strategies to get around it and work harder than the other kids in this area." ( DUH!!!)
Over 1/2 of my students are also "on the spectrum",( list of kids with one difficulty or other.) The solution we as teachers have been advised is the same. I guess it's nice to know the experts agree, we are on the right track, but a bit underwhelming as to their usefulness in that case.

Incidentally, in my personal opinion, as a teacher, a 'delinquent' (I'm not quibbling with your descriptor as an understandable short-hand), or I guess in the States they are called 'at-risk-kids', is most likely a kid with emotional issues - putting them also 'on the spectrum'. They are often, incidentally the brightest and bored.

But, so yeah: In conclusion - I think if the resources were spent wisely in the first place on smaller classes/child to adult ratio and a sane schedule - far less resources would be needed for 'Special-Ed', where I gather, in the US, a lot of resources are now being spent.

August Johnson said...

JMG - Forgot to mention, my High School had a huge variety of Vocational classes. In addition to the ones I took (Electronics, Metalworking, Welding & Machine Shop) there were Printing & Publishing Layout, Mechanical Drawing, Auto Shop, Photography, Woodworking, etc. Back in the 90's my friend who was there with me told me that all those classes except Auto Shop were gone! His son had none of those available at the same school!

onething said...


What was the open concept elementary school about, and why was it worse?

I think the final straw for me was in 5th grade, when we had to do spelling homework every single day that was idiotic, tedious and boring, for words that I knew how to spell on day one. Except one of them was to put the words in a sentence. I got into it, trying to put as many of the words into one sentence (and taking care that it was still a good and reasonable sentence - that was the fun of it) and my teacher sneered at me, no doubt thinking I was trying to cheat, and said I could do that all I wanted, but I still had to make a sentence for each word, 10 sentences.

onething said...


Where can I go to understand why this interstadial is supposed to last 50K? I find that a bit suspicious, as we've been in this current ice age some 2.5 million years and now that we are 11,000 into the interglacial, suddenly it's not going to end anytime soon?

onething said...


On Melville. I rarely read novels or fiction, not because I don't like it or see the value, but simply because I'm driven to find information as fast as I can shovel it in. My sense of Moby Dick was that it was a lousy movie and that the whole story was pointless. I vaguely wondered why it was a classic. Recently, however, someone who claims to be enlightened based a book mostly on Moby Dick, claiming that he seems to be the first person to really understand what Melville was on about -- and I'll tell you that he says it is a first rate tale of a spiritual journey that Ahab was on. Intrigued, I bought it; I'm reading it right now today and oh! it is hands down the finest piece of literature I have ever read, a poem of a book and why anyone would ever commit such sacrilege as to make a movie of it I can't fathom. No way to make a movie of writing like that.

Shane W said...

thanks for the input--you're right that probably a lot of the problems would be self-correcting in a less dysfunctional system. Regarding "delinquent", I was thinking more of the sociopathic type--in juvy(?), frequently expelled, in a gang, drug problems, bully--though I guess those kinds of things would be more likely in later grades, though I guess they start somewhere, and I'm sure that too would be somewhat self-correcting in a more functional society!

Caryn said...

@ onething:
I can try to answer, if you don't mind my butting in:
Open Concept or open classroom elementary school was an architectural classroom design consisting of one big open space, housing 4-5 classes and divided only by dividers. Sort of like aisles in a grocery store or cubicles in an office pool, but larger classroom sized divides. It was meant to feel more inviting and homey to children as well as share common resources like a kitchenette or art and craft tables, (and thereby save money.)

My kids' school used to have this design. Now they've changed it. It is a terrible design because it is inescapably loud and noisy and distracting. A lot of younger kids have not yet developed a filtering system to tune out ambient noise. They can't focus on their own class teacher if they hear ambient noise from neighboring classes. They just stare into space with the sensory input overload. They lose the whole day, (or months, or year.) This is now also considered a specific 'learning difficulty', but it's a physical and mental developmental stage. Some kids just grow out of it sooner than others.
Also if a teacher wants to do something a bit more rowdy with their class, like a hands-on science experiment or game or anything that will get the kids excited and jumping, they can't because it will completely overwhelm the neighboring classes. Teachers have to curb their students' enthusiasm, which is counter productive and a total drag for all of them.

Matchstick Warrior said...

Nice nod to the boy from Brixton.
Thanks JMG.


james albinson said...

@onething... Go to wikipedia, search for Milankovitch cycles. Look at the chart/graph on the top RHS that plots orbital parameters, solar insolation at 65 degrees north, isotope core measurements and ice core measurements. Look at the solar insolation graph. Observe that there are periods of large amplitude in insolation, and periods of small amplitude in insolation. The large amplitude periods coincide with ice age conditions - Stadials. The intervening periods of lower amplitude swings are the Interstadials. To hand waving accuracy the current interstadial is circa 50,000 yrs long although this is mildly arguable. The idea of the last 2.5Myr as an ice age is an overarching generalisation - conditions in the Pleistocene were such that periods of colder, icier climate with large icesheets were possible, with swings up and down in temperature. Whereas before the possibilities of large icesheets extending to low latitudes were much reduced. There is a great deal of nuance and subtlety in what causes ice ages, as the underlying Milankovitch cycles are modified by the distribution of land and ocean in both hemispheres and by details in the ocean circulation. As I noted, look at the "Start Here" top left hand side of the Realclimate website for a good list of topics. The Spencer Weart link on the history of the science of climate change is especially recommendable. I would also say the the IPCC AR5 reports, especially the Vol1 on the science, huge though they are, are readable, and form a pretty definitive guide to our current state of knowledge. Regards, James

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Toomas,

Thanks for the Myers history. Sorry to correct you, but the old saying goes (which you never hear any more these days): "More front than Myers". The rest of your story is exactly spot on: The professor was a bit cheeky with that bit of Latin! Plenty of people in the know would have been quietly snickering to themselves at the joke, because Latin in those days used to be taught at school - especially in private schools.

You're spot on too as the whole Melbourne - Sydney thing is just weird. A few years back I travelled to Sydney to pick up a beautiful second hand and quite large Persian rug (with the makers signature woven into the work too) and I arrived at the beautiful old house in North Sydney only to be confronted by smirks and snickering and the suggestion that I cut the rug up to produce a quilt patchwork. My gut feeling was that they were trying to cover up their embarrassment at having to sell the rug but externalising their discomfit. I paid the money and kept my thoughts to myself and now enjoy the rug daily! Such is the rivalry shown in all sorts of trivial ways.

I don't believe the Sydney siders have ever forgiven the fact that the Federal Parliament was first held in Melbourne before the city of Canberra was built. Plus, it was the second wealthiest city of the planet at the time (due to the proceeds of the gold rush). Things have quietened down since then...



Crow Hill said...

JMG: You write : “…the rational mind is a very recent evolutionary construct… Like most new releases, the rational mind is riddled with bugs.”

This comment reminded me of the Kogi chamans of Colombia’s belief as reported in Alan Ereira’s BBC documentary “The Lost City”. According to them humankind, or more specifically human masculinity, is dangerous and needs to be civilized.

Their “treatment” is chewing the coca leaf whose active principles they extract with lime through incessant hand movements to remind them of male-female complementarity. Women grow the coca but do not ingest it—they don’t need it!

The Kogi belief forced me to reassess the idea that living close to nature would in itself make people better.

donalfagan said...

With respect to schooling, wood shop was useful, but taking mechanical drawing class in jr high school almost certainly changed my life. I enjoyed the work, and the social aspect of occasional chatting across the draughting boards. We were allowed to take portable boards home, which I did to churn out dimensioned plans, elevations and isometrics of various widgets.

The Republican National Committee is trying hard to distance itself from the two tribal privilege warriors leading the polls in the presidential race right now. FiveThirtyEight gave Cruz a B+ and Trump a B after the most recent debate, but most other outlets claim Cruz stumbled by attacking Trump's NYC values. Now FiveThirtyEight is describing the prisoner's dilemma that all the other candidates face with Trump and Cruz in the race:

Phil Harris said...

Hi onething
I likewise don't know what James means.

The planet has been on a cooling trend through the Pliocene (>5 My BP) and Pleistocene (2 My BP) but regular major ‘deep’ glaciation episodes really only appeared in the last 800 thousand years. Interglacial periods comparable with the present Holocene are relatively short – a few thousand years - although it takes the best part of 100 thousand plus years for temperature to sink again to the ‘glacial lowest point’. The regularity of the oscillations is imposed by the regular perturbations in the earth’s orbital cycle, (accompanied by change in solar input) re-enforced by the non-condensing greenhouse gases out-gassing /sequestration.
Lots of graphs here:


Moshe Braner said...

Regarding adapting Noah Webster's spelling method to our age, seems like somebody has already attempted that:

Moshe Braner said...

Why are trolley systems a "natural monopoly" and the railroads not? Actually I think it is rather unfortunate for the future of the US that the highways have been turned into a subsidized public good while the railroads are subject to property taxes. This has led to a dependence on energy inefficient trucking while the energy efficient moving of freight by rail languishes (except for some bulk materials such as coal).

Leo Knight said...

Thanks for another provocative story. This brought up a lot of memories. My parents sent me to Catholic schools for twelve years. They had a strong emphasis on rote learning, and obedience. Faculty liked to use corporal punishment and public humiliation. An early memory, from first grade: the teacher handed out a mimeographed (there's a lost technology!) worksheet. As she explained it to the class, I read it and completed the work. The sheet had pictures of various vehicles, cars, trucks, planes. I colored in the tires black with my pencil.

Then the teacher said we needed to do the sheet together. No one should jump ahead. Uh oh! I tried to erase my work (and play) but couldn't. Even though I did all the work correctly, she punished me for jumping ahead. I learned the lesson: conform, obey, (or at least pretend to).

The following eleven years played out in mostly the same way. I got off easy, since I was advanced verbally ("smart"), socially awkward, and cowardly. My first instinct was usually to duck and hide. They liked quiet, obedient children. I got good grades until my father died, and then I started to give up. Looking back, I was probably depressed, but in the 70s, kids didn't get depressed, and certainly not Catholic kids.

I suppose I should feel grateful I wasn't born later. They'd have probably drugged me to my eyeballs.

Sorry, I don't really have a point. This installment, and the comments, triggered this.

Shane W said...

one thing no one's brought up yet is how good the quality of life seems to be in Hicksville. Everything is neat, clean, and pleasing. There were lots of villages like this throughout the US before industrialization, and they weren't the squalid places that the myth of progress makes them out to be. Fastidious composting and awareness of germ theory could avoid cholera and other disease outbreaks that were common in the 19th century. It also reminds you just how advantageous we still are here in North America--we're still relatively sparsely populated, and with changes in agricultural practices, our land could become fertile again.

nuku said...

Woodburning stoves and thermo-electricity: A company in Canada make fans that sit on the stove and convert heat into a small current which drives the fan's motor. The fan blows heated air out into the room. Not cheap, but they work. Search for "Ecofan".

Shane W said...

"because human beings are not rational creatures -- nor will they ever be, nor can they be made rational without mental and spiritual mutilation."
JMG, it's this understanding that sets you apart from all (most?) the other writers on peak oil/collapse. Most all of them are coming from backgrounds that assume completely the ability of humans in the whole to act rationally.

nuku said...

@Shane W,
As a high school senior, I sometimes kept a pack of smokes in my locked school locker (against school regulations)for use after school. The school did an unannounced search and confiscated my cigs. I told my mom, a very intelligent and politically aware woman way ahead of her time in 1960, who went to the principal and demanded that he return my personal property or face legal action! The cigs were returned and I learned a valuable lesson about standing up for my rights.
The technical courses like woodshop, drafting, and metal work were very helpful later on in life.

siliconguy said...

"Where can I go to understand why this interstadial is supposed to last 50K? I find that a bit suspicious, as we've been in this current ice age some 2.5 million years and now that we are 11,000 into the interglacial, suddenly it's not going to end anytime soon?"

The best reference I've found is "The long thaw" by David Archer. He has a nice graph near the end that shows the insolation changes over the millenium. In short, a minor ice age should start buy probably won't in about 3,000 years, then there was a long pause until about 48,000 years form now which would have been a major event similar to the departed Wisconsin (ice right over Manhattan and Chicago, sea levels down 300 ft, etc.)

Also recommended is a book by E.C. Pielou, "After the Ice Age". It covers what happened to the plant life during the retreat of the North American ice sheets.

Scotlyn said...

I'd like to address the issue of consensus from a different point of view. I first encountered the concept during some of the holidays my family took in the 1970's at "Monteverde" - a Quaker community in Costa Rica that used consensus methods to manage both a nationally successful dairy/cheese coop and an internationally renowned rainforest biological reserve. The methods and tools they used were ones the Quakers have developed and used among themselves for at least 300 years in response to the working out of certain strong values of that sect. (See

In some ways these methods are not so dissimilar to Roberts Rules of Order, that is to say, there is a level of formality in them that people don't associate with consensus decision-making (but then, few people know much about consensus decision-making at all), but a key value explained to me at Monteverde was to avoid at all costs the creation of a disgruntled or unhappy minority rump, as results from rushing to a majority vote.

The old hand who explained its workings to me told me that in 30 years of managing the Co-op (at the time of speaking) the members had only once had to resort to two "silences" to reach a consensus, and often didn't need one. A consensus that every member would then feel committed to implementing.

Naturally, success in using consensus requires shared values, trust in each other, commitment to the process and its outcomes, and (tellingly) a lot of practice, but I reckon these are necessary for succeeding in any human group dynamic.

In any case, I don't think it is entirely fair to leave the implication hanging that consensus decision-making never works.

onething said...

Caryn, thanks.

"It is a terrible design because it is inescapably loud and noisy and distracting."

Is it wrong of me to be chuckling at the thought of how such an environment would suit our host's personality? I mean, it's so bad that it's funny.

The other Tom said...

After reading the comments on education it occurred to me that perhaps American schools ironically, perhaps unintentionally, make students well prepared for the workplace.
I don't have children and thus have no direct experience with schools today but I was struck by the similarity between descriptions of academic life with the experience of so many workplaces. A sterile environment always puts you in danger of a stunted imagination. This obsession with testing and measuring in the schools along with squeezing out everything that is not readily measured, corresponds to workplaces where everyone is monitored through their computer or scanning device, measuring output while disregarding everything that is difficult to measure. In both scenarios, it is a system that encourages running up your numbers and avoiding what is new, challenging, or interesting. It seems like both our education and economic systems are geared to rooting out human judgement and replacing it with a matrix of data. The schools it seems, do not foster a love of learning any more than the workplaces make for satisfying work.
The students are continually threatened with standardized tests, while employees have credit scores determining their worthiness, along with worrying about how every aspect of their lives will look on a resume.
In both the schools and the workplace it seems that being miserable, bored, and adhering to a cultural homogeneity with a particular vocabulary and political correctness is the norm.
It didn't seem quite this hostile when I was in school. At least it was not this bad.
Even the process of applying for a job has become an ordeal designed to waste tremendous amounts of time. This is true even for a lot of low paying jobs. In the early 70s, when I was hired on my first jobs, it was a simple, direct process. No resume was required, that was only for certain professional jobs. You would simply fill out an application and then meet someone face to face, somebody who you knew was getting an impression of your intelligence, willingness to learn, and demeanor.
In contrast, an acquaintance of mine applied for a job at FedEx. It took all day, requiring him to watch a propaganda video, an application, resume, a four hour test, and finally an interview. All this for a part time job that paid something like $9 an hour.
There is no common sense and little reality to all this, whether it is the school testing or workplace monitoring, it is more of a racket for the administrators and industries who implement it.
My contention is that an intelligent interviewer, if she or he is paying attention, can glean more useful insight into someone's qualities in five minutes of conversation than from a whole day of formalized tests. They could rely more on their bs detector than on the data.
I imagine that all this distraction from reality will be eliminated in the LLR or any country that has to effectively use its resources.
In the meantime, most of us have to deal with this nonsense cluttering up our lives. They say if you don't get in the right preschool you're already on a lower career trajectory.

Shane W said...

to my knowledge, there was no rule or regulation against high school students possessing tobacco in my school, but I lived in one of the top burley tobacco producing counties in the country. Our ag dept was heavily involved in tobacco farming. I was in high school from '91-'94. Teachers were allowed to smoke in their classrooms after hours, during things like after school tutoring. When I started, a month before my 16th birthday, you could fudge on ID by telling the clerk "it's in my car"--they were clueless--they'd just be "well, if you're old enough to drive..." (the purchase age in KY was 16, unenforced) Supporting the farmers was a duty back then...

Shane W said...

Even though I don't smoke anymore, I'm thinking a lot of the antismoking push is an outward expression of the biophobia/fear of death of our time, and will probably subside somewhat in the future. Future generations may not see the justification for it, and it may not be relevant to them that smoking causes cancer or other illnesses, depending on how low mortality goes, and how much social disruption occurs, and the social benefits of smoking may outweigh the costs. The only thing relevant in the future may be smoking's immediate reduction of a person's productivity...

SLClaire said...

Steve Thomas,

There may have been a set of circumstances that allowed my husband and I to be successful in our effort to institute Robert's Rules (I'll abbreviate as RR below).

(1) He was quite familiar with RR from attending union meetings and from being on his local's grievance committee and, later, being shop steward for his work group.

(2) I was reasonably familiar with RR as well from having held various committee and board positions on local nonprofits that used it.

(3) Both of us were active on the board and in fundraising at our previous center. I had been the president of the board at the old center for several years; he'd been secretary.

(4) The core group of people from the old center who formed the new center are good friends and all had past or current board experience when we left.

Circumstances that I'd rather not get into made it difficult to use RR at the old center, though we did at least use the move-second-vote system to take board actions. When the new center was forming, the folks who were active in setting up the by-laws (not me) tried to do it by consensus, resulting in it taking months longer than it could have. I hadn't planned on being on the board of the new center but when no one else volunteered, I sighed and agreed to be president for a little less than a year. Over that time I started moving us to RR's standard meeting format and Mike and I began to argue for adopting RR officially. We ran into considerable resistance since people seemed to associate RR with the US Congress' inability to get anything constructive done (cold prickliness) and associated consensus process with warm fuzziness, although at least one or two people did find and read one of the "dummy guides" to RR as a result of Mike's and my pestering. I made a motion to adopt RR at our annual meeting a year ago, the last one at which I was president, but it failed. However, the new president was one of those who'd read a bit on RR and over the next few board meetings, she asked Mike, who is secretary, to make a brief report on a relevant section of RR at the beginning of each meeting. These got her interested enough to start using RR to run the meetings. We could all then experience for ourselves how much easier it was to get through a meeting and, more importantly, have designated committees do most of the work outside of the board meetings. It was this hands-on experience with the process that has been key.

Pantagruel7 said...

I haven't read the comments this time, so I don't know what the jist of the conversation has been up to now. If this becomes a novel, perhaps some not to the local icon sharp-shooter, Annie Oakley, could be worked in. Actually she was from Darke County, a little south of where your drone shoot was held, but her memory is still alive down in western Ohio. I did like your little refresher on the history of corporations. I was just reading Wikipedia's article on David Lynch and his libertarian views. The only part of government he likes is the traffic signals, or so he says. I think most people of the libertarian 'bent' think that corporations just occur naturally - they don't realize that governments create them, and otherwise they would not exist. Bork and (Ronald) Coase are among the culprits, in making corporations into what they've become but there's plenty of blame to go around. Libertarians should realize that having created these Frankenstein monsters called corporations, governments have a responsibility to regulate them. My two cents. Keep up the good work in 2016 and beyond.

Glenn said...

"nuku said...
Woodburning stoves and thermo-electricity:{Snip!}"

I'm familiar with those. Back in the '70's, the last time around an oil crisis and back to the land culture, every techno-hippy I knew had one on their stove.

I pointed out the Russian one as an example of the sort of medium tech our host has been touting. Not as productive as PV, but a good deal simpler and more robust. FWIW, I am still a PV on home roof top advocate, but I can't afford it even now.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

in the Bramblepatch

donalfagan said...

On ScienceBlogs, Greg Laden discusses the misunderstanding of the Nature article:

"... Simply put, over the last two million years or so, the Earth has gone through a couple of dozen cycles that have ice ages at one end and very warm periods (such as the one we were in in the 19th century) at the other end. The first several cycles were modest, but the most recent have been extreme, with the cold periods involving the growth of major continental glaciers big enough, for example, to cover most of Canada and a chunk of the US. The current warm period, enhanced by anthropogenic global warming, is probably already warmer than the previous really warm periods, and over the next couple of decades will certainly be what has been called a “super-interglacial” with temperatures consistently being above anything during this entire glacial-interglacial cycle."

Also I agree with Caryn's observations on Open Concept schools. Open plan offices started in the late 1800s, but really took off in the 1950s. Open plan schools followed in the 1970s, but children didn't adapt as well as adults. Currently open plans with play spaces are trendy and cool in fields where everyone wears ear buds and stares at monitors. But with my biotech clients I notice anyone that can does their best to wangle a private office. There's a relevant Fedex commercial BTW:

Jon from Virginia said...

While we're looking back, let's not forget the 60s and 70s, when the educational establishment let 10,000 flowers bloom and then decided that the one true flower was the hybrid Chrysler Imperial rose.

Let's start with Benjamin Bloom, a high cardinal of the establishment who coughed up the intellectual hairball "Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives" (ack, ack, ach, ptoooi!). In the late 60s he went emeritus and discovered teaching to mastery. It had far better results-classroom teaching to mastery placed student achievement at 85% and tutoring to mastery, 98% (!) . He then went on to study high performers in both academic and athletic fields and concluded that such performance required practice of basic skills to automaticity.

So the next question is, how much practice does it take, where on the line between "just introduced" and "drilled and killed" is the sweet spot? Ogden Lindsley found the answer for basic skills- you have it when you have it fast. This requires no tech higher than flash cards and a chess timer. He named the technique "Precision Teaching", a typical terrible academic name, no? But someone else did worse, renamed it "Curriculum Based Measurement", in a quarrel over...what kind of graph paper to use.

But what about using those skills to answer more complex problems? Stephen Rubin of the Center School, a public Elementary School in New Canaan CT, found an answer. He went through hundred and then thousands of student math test results, and culled all except the questions that A and B students tended to answer correctly, and the rest did not. He and his staff then refined and tested the questions to give--a quick and compact test of mastery. Read Public Schools should learn to Ski for their amazing achievements.

And then weep, since when the old school building was replaced, the whole system was swept away. Remember Francis Turnley and Sonsils, a way of teaching reading and writing using the 70 or so utterances you can hear babies babble? Gone beyond recovery. This result, the automatic return to the sorting machine model, is so common there must be a reason. My guess? Schools Must Not distort property values.

This brings me to Arthur Whimbey, who disproved The Bell Curve before it was written-- read his Intelligence can be Taught. But that's not what I want to talk about. His early work disappeared in the normal way, so he started over. He built small sharp instruments to penetrate the armor of public schools. He took the observation that "writing is rewriting", wrote and tested a 70 page supplement that taught rewriting first. Supplements evade the textbook committees and give administrators with a few unspent bucks a place to spend it. Next, he knew that Sentence Diagramming fails to teach the parts of speech, absent a talented teacher and careful introduction. So he broke down the problem, found a solution (build a toy grammar and extend that), then tested and sold another supplement. He found the skills students lacked to succeed on the old SAT, and with his regular coauthor, wrote a book to sell their anxious parents. It taught those skills -in the guise of exam preparation. As a bonus, he used the educational fad of team learning to sneak in a tested technique for naive peer tutoring, Think Aloud Paired Problem Solving.

Traditionally, teachers were told to pace lessons for the slowest student willing to learn. John Saxon failed to teach his CC students with the methods he learned from his long Air Force career. So he ended up writing and testing worksheets to fill a whole class period and found he could introduce about 15% new material in each one. Similarly, Zig Engelmann found beginner students could handle about 10% new material in each lesson and about 30% new material after just a few lessons in his format.

So there are a few things newer than John Milton Gregory that are worth keeping.

YCS said...

Some very interesting insights on education. I did all of my primary, intermediate and high schooling in New Zealand, where they still know how to teach (somewhat). I can honestly admit that half the reason I managed to get a scholarship to university was because of the high level of commitment of my school teachers and their willingness to go outside the curriculum to teach us what was required.
I thought that the US was only slightly worse than our parts, until I saw the John Oliver comedy segment on US education and was horrified at what passes for education in this country - how could you possibly test ability with multi-choice exams? Yet that's what they do in that sham of 'SAT's.

Another problem I see though in western culture is the chronic glamourisation of mediocrity. Being conscientious in study got me shunned and bullied through a good amount of school, and by the looks of your TV shows, seems to be at a permanent life-scarring intensity in the United States. Not only is the education system bad, but youth culture actively encourages not having any curiousity and idling your mind in fake relationships, alcohol, video games and the like. I say this as a youth myself. This isn't the case in Asia, and granted that Asian education has a huge lot of its own problems - kids thinking that having interest in something outside of the latest lewd rap video is a crime isn't one of them.

Hopefully by 2065, the young people in Lakeland have been taught some basic values and are encouraged to pay attention to some important things.


Raymond Duckling said...

Dear JMG,

Mexican education is a pretty mixed bag, specially since our authorities insist on copying all the errors you have made in the US with a lag of 20-30 years ago. Still, most of our problems do not come from having a cohesive disfunctional system, but by the chaos that results when everyone understand the system is disfunctional and go merrily to work around it or take advantage of it in their own style with no central coordination. Still, I think this approach allows the best teachers to be effective without much external interference, even it there are lots of negative side effects.

I do not doubt you have plenty of capable teachers at the other side of the river, too. The problem is that you insist in tying the hands good and proper. Maybe it would be better for the education of your country if instead of exporting the teachers themselves we could seed your syndicates with some delegates of our own. The Mexican Syndacate of School Workers is a mighty political force to be reckoned with and they have fought education reforms tooth and nail. And I am not talking about just sitting in meetings and doing heated speeches; some school districts are famous for having kids loose weeks or months at a time, because their teachers thing nothing of rioting or traveling to Mexico City and doing peaceful though disrupting demonstrations there.

ed boyle said...
see first video on ratnik system from 16th january to double effectiveness of russian infantry with hitech on body due to 'lessons learned' in all recent conflicts. Only 4 minutes but shows where modern trend is going away from airplanes and tanks, as easy targets towards flexible feet on the ground.As this week is still military focused I believe thisbis on topic. RIP David Jones, alias Bowie. 'Put on your red shoes and dance the blues. Sway to the music on the radio.' Bye bye major tom. Ground control has lost control.

nuku said...

@Moshe Braner:
You said "Why are trolley systems a "natural monopoly" and the railroads not?"
My guess is that since trolley systems are located in the confines of a town or city, there is simply no physical space for "competing" trolley systems. Two separate trolley tracks going down the same streets makes no economic sense.
Since railroads service a much bigger area between towns, they have the room to take alternative routes and are not "natual" monopolies.
That said, I tend to think that railroads, like highways, should be publically owned monopolies simply because in many cases the so-called benefits of competition are an illusion.

Shane W said...

Speaking of smoking, to me, as someone who grew up in the tail-end of smoking's popularity, now living through the tech gadget age, the addiction parallels are striking. I remember back in the 80s & 90s encountering smokers all the time that admitted that smoking was bad, hating the effects, saying they should quit, smoking on. Now, I'm having the experience of people saying that digital gadgets and social media are bad, anatomizing them, that they destroy their interpersonal relationships IRL, that they very much want to quit digital media, but continue right on touching and staring into the screens. The parallels are striking.

Patricia Mathews said...

OT: and why are these tings always published during a Retropia week rather than a Current Events week?

1) Dana Blankenhorn, to mark the death of David Bowie,repeated his belief that everything is America is and will be forever rosy - except that, like old rock stars, old politicians and old voters are standing in the way of all this rosiness .... because the old voters vote Republican by sheer reflex, having done so for the past 40 years. Like Pavlov's dogs.

2) Charlie Stross points out how deep and long the paranoid streak in American politics is, and notes that Papa Koch was a co-founder of the John Birch Society. For a Scot, he has a pretty clear vision of events on our side of the pond from time to time.

Ray Wharton said...

I love posts on education! So seeing this glimpse of the Lakeland Republic is very interesting. I was recently asked what I was most grateful for, and answered that I have been fortunate to have had several exceptional teachers in my life.

I tolerated public school up until 8th grade because I believe that the small k-12 school I went to up in a small mountain town was comparatively functional,the teachers were not, as a general rule, over qualified, but went into teaching because that was their calling, many had even grown up in the same community they taught. By 9th grade however I reach a peak of frustration with the system, especially a terrible math class. Some fancy pants idea to mix geometry and algebra into two classes that were each half each. After a week of reviewing what a triangle was (which Mrs. Hill had covered adequately when I was in first grade) I refused to return and with my Mom's support found a charter school 50 miles a way; arranging to live with my grand parents during that time.

I think that the most fortunate thing that happened in my life so far was that charter school, to escape the toxic social and mental conditions of public high school. The charter school itself was a decent school, "self directed" they called the model. There was a filing cabinet filled with pamphlets which listed the skills and knowledge areas that were expected to be mastered to complete each possible class the school offered, which included all the standard classes of Colorado public education, and a diverse set of electives. A student could work through as many as 5 pamphlets at a time, and if you wanted another you had to finish one of the ones you were started on. Each pamphlet would have any where from 8 to 30 some requirements. To check off a requirement one simply had to learn the skill or material, and then do something that proved your mastery beyond a reasonable doubt. A library and teachers were available as resources, and there were recommended means of demonstration. Each thing had to be presented to a teacher and at least two students, who would all grade you, the teacher basing your grade on how well you taught the other students. Some teachers would do presentations of interesting material in their field of expertise, but often had trouble getting good attendance, I wish the teachers had offered more of these presentations, but too often just chased students to do their own demonstrations.

There were some real problems with the system, especially that many students would not direct themselves very much, and there was little recourse in the system to motivate students. On the other hand, if one cannot self direct at a high school age, it might be better to GED and go in to the real world.

The system ended soon after getting its charter, which empowered the parents board to over rule the principle. They quickly choose a more prestigious program and the school shut down a year later.

Clay Dennis said...

I can add to the discussion on Fraternal organizations and Service Clubs. My experience has been the opposite of JMG as I was in a service club ( Rotary) for several years in the mid to late 2000's but have never been in a fraternal lodge. My opinion, is as currently run, modern service clubs ( Rotary at least) are not usefull organizations to meet the challanges of what lies ahead. They meet at lunchtime to minimize the time commitement and mostly seem to be about collecting money. They collect a large annual membership fee of which the majority is immediatly sent off to the national organization in Chicago. There it is used to pay for the salaries, expenses and pensions of a bueracracy of 600 people. A classic imperial set-up that sucks money out of the hinterlands for the benefit of the masters at the center. Then the rest of the year is spent in fund raisers ( or nagging members to donate more money) to be used for an annual "service project". This is always something bland and unthreatening like a picnic roof in the park or a heating system for the orphans home. The high point of my membership was when I got on the speakers committe and managed to sneak in a good speaker on peak oil. I soon after realized it was time for me to leave when the "Leadership" of the club told me not to pursue any more speakers like that as it "scared" the members.The second sign was that the club went on a huge fund drive to raise a big "fund" they could invest with a local money manager and then use the investment income to fund it's projects with so they would not have to bother with any more fundraisers. This was back in 2009 and their planned goal would give them all they money they needed if they got a return of 8%. I asked what would happen if they got less than that and the reply was that the money manager they chose was very good and they would hold his feet to the fire and insist on the 8%. I realized at that point that Rotary represented everything that was wrong with the thinking in middle class America and I needed to get out.
Instead I moved to a new city ( for other reasons) and joined two organizations. One that grows food in peoples unused front and back yards, and another that has big work parties to tear up parking lots and impervious surfaces and return them to vegitation. Much more usefull and neither group seems to have much need for money.

latheChuck said...

As a parent of an 18-year old boy, my recent experience with US (Maryland) public school curriculum, is that in math it's "always 4th grade". In 1st - 3rd grade, the students are "exposed" to 4th grade material, but allowed to ignore it. In 4th grade, they're expected to learn it, but since they've never had to learn it before, they just watch it boringly go by once again. In 5-6th grade, the teacher struggles to understand why no one understands the 4th-grade "review" material, and the students are feeling cheated and defeated. After 6th grade, we found different (private) schools. The comments above are not to be taken too literally, by the way.

Another issue that we faced was that many of the families in our local area include "undocumented" (illegal) immigrants. They want their children to succeed in school, but they're apparently afraid to participate in extra-curricular activities (yes, I mean the parents are afraid). Come to a PTA meeting? Meet the friendly community police officers? Not gonna happen. Then again, some of them may still be working, or resting from a hard day's work. But for whatever the reason, there was no way to get most of the parents involved.

Kevin Warner said...

I read about the obsession with using metrics in schools so that students can be categorized and sorted, curriculum streamlined and rid of inconsequential subjects such as art and history, teachers compensated for 'results' achieved and I realize that education systems are being warped to conform to the expectations of what computer systems demand in the way of data to use rather than people's judgement.
The modern educational philosophy seems to be that only things that you an put numbers to are worthy of consideration (with facts on the ground ignored) but to quote one author, what happens then is that 'Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.' Consequently, the educational level of students graduating is nowhere near what was promised or even comparable with past graduates and yet there is too much money at stake to consider changing course.
It is at this point that another old quote comes rising up from the mists in which one Antoine de Saint-Exupery says; "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." and I realize that he is right. How can you produce a metric for justice, compassion or even love. How do you measure students for resilience, initiative and curiosity? At best you can only really measure for the production of learning efforts and rote learning but that does not make education. And we will all be poorer as a result.

Just as a side note, there is a good article called "Mother Nature's Invisible Hand Strikes Back Against the Carbon Economy" at that is worth reading.

Brian said...

*ahem* For anyone who hasn't seen it, North Dakota crude being sold for -$0.50 per barrel.

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

re: compulsory schooling-- Here's a link to quotes from "Dumbing Us Down" by John Taylor Gatto--

Bill Pulliam said...

Dave Ruggiero re: German, around here the Amish under 60 speak English also, and those under 40 seem to speak English as their primary language. By 2065 I expect Pennsylvania Dutch may no longer exist as a living language.

MawKernewek said...

I'll repeat a comment of mine from an earlier post:
Based on the 65°N summer insolation as a driver of northern hemisphere glaciation, projecting forward the Milankovitch cycles, there is no trigger equivalent to that which started the last glacial period 110kyr ago for up to 0.6 Myr according to Hollan. Other authors such as Berger+Loutre suggest that as the Earth's eccentricity is at a minimum we will not experience another glaciation for 50,000 years. See also NOAAlink.

Shane W said...

I wonder if tobacco goes back to being a wealthy status symbol, since, as JMG says, we're destined to return to a Third World level. In the Third World, the average person cannot afford tobacco, even though taxes are much lower, and it is reserved as a status symbol for the middle or wealthy classes.

jean-vivien said...

Kevin Warner, a very relevant article, thanks for the link. And I am heartened to dee that our Antoine is also known across the ocean :-)

Brian, so I am not the only one to notice that a crash is underway...

Robert Mathiesen said...

Thank you, Moshe Branner, for the link to Don Potter's updated version of Webster's Spelling Book. It certainly is interesting.

However, what I had thought of writing was not a full-scale spelling text (such as Potter's or Webster's) that, say, a home-schooling parent might use, but simply a short and easy guide to a simple way for parents to start their children reading simple things on their own before handing them over to whatever school sysstem one might choose. It does presuppose that the parents are alrwady talking to their children without talking down to them, are themselves already avid readers, and have the time and inclination to read to their children. Given that, all intelligent and observant children really need is the main lines of the rules for turning what they see in writing into something they can hear with their own ears, and then understanding it by comparison with their own spoken English. That could be taught to parents in a pamphlet of well under 50 pages, I think.

Of course, with the relatively few common exceptions to these "rules of reading aloud" that English has, any child's first efforts will include some mispronunciations (and thus also some misunderstandings). So children also have to learn (1) how they can "measure" their tentative reading aloud against what they already knows when they speaks their own native English, (2) how to correct his initial errors on his own, without having to constantly get input from some literate adult, and (3) that it is OK to do this on their own without adult input. Sure, they will get some details wrong at first, but as they keep on reading and talking, further experience will correct these initial mistakes that they will inevitably make.

So I'm aiming at a method the child can use for himself or herself, once a parent has demonstrated the simplest basics of it, to increase his or her own literacy under his or her own power. "Under his or her own power" is the really important point here.

If you can give children agency over the whole process of learning to read, so that they can start to use it in their own interests apart from adult supervision, and if you can also give children books that interest them keenly, then they can (and will!) probably do most of the remaining work on their own.

And if children can master something (from adult life) on their own, especially something that other adults regard as formidably difficult, then they are primed and prepped and psyched to take charge of their own further education.

So this is fundamentally a subversive thing, too, emancipating to some degree the child's own future book-learning and self-education from constant adult supervision and control. Children always apppreciate that sort of freedom from adult authority.)

John Michael Greer said...

Dot/Mallow, to my mind, public schools should not be in the business of teaching ethics. Period. That's one of those places where education blends all too readily into indoctrination.

Dave, I was talking about foreign languages, of course. Pennsylvania Dutch isn't foreign in the Lakeland Republic; there are local schools in which that's the language in which teaching is conducted from first grade on (based on similar schools that some other at-risk languages now use), half a dozen daily newspapers, and a range of other periodicals. Keep in mind, though, that Pennsylvania Dutch is about as far from any of the standard German dialects these days as, say, Yiddish; you can be perfectly fluent in it and be unable to communicate with somebody from Berlin or Munich.

James, do you really think repeating the current party line about the 1970s debate over ice ages will make it true? I discussed that whole business in an earlier post, in the process of pointing out that the current scientific habit of rewriting history to erase last year's mistakes is one of the things that's causing a vast number of people to lose whatever respect they might still have for the scientific community. I was alive at the time; I recall the debates, and it wasn't just a handful of people on the fringes who thought a new ice age might well be imminent. Were they wrong? Of course -- and that's the point; the scientific consensus of one decade is very often the embarrassing mistake of the next...which is one of the reasons I'm less than confident about the current theory of how soon the next ice age will arrive.

Crow Hill, indeed it has; the one difference is that the older system could be set up so that people who paid into the project got their money back out of the proceeds of the project. That might be worth bringing back into the equation as things proceed.

Matthias, you must have missed the first dozen or so posts from the Retrotopia series, which are set in a moderately large city (Toledo, OH) and make much of the urban amenities found there. Are you possibly projecting your own assumptions onto what I'm saying here? As for a good source on EROEI, I wish I had one; since the Oil Drum shut down, I've been having to gather such details as I can from sources here and there, and factor in such things as monetary cost as a proxy measure.

Phil, of course -- human beings have both rational and irrational sides, and trying to amputate either one results in disaster.

Eric, heh heh heh. Stay tuned!

Robert, understood. I never got to experience competent schooling -- the public schools I attended, in an assortment of south Seattle suburbs, were early adopters of most of the bad ideas that have come to pervade US education, from obsessive dependence on multiple choice tests on down. It's a measure of how bad things were that I graduated from high school without ever being required to read a single important work of English or American literature or a single unedited historical document of any importance. (I read quite a few of both on my own time.) Between the misguided Sixties-era obsession with "relevance" and the first few cycles of watering down the curriculum, it was thirteen years of misery and wasted time. Thus my hearkening back to American education in the days when it actually educated children, as a basis for this post.

Toomas, thank you! I'd heard the caveat emptor story but not the other, which may just be the funniest bit of Latin bawdy I've heard yet.

Robert, I favor the branding irons. Put it down to a recent reread of Schopenhauer, who makes a very strong case for reason as a kind of querulous passenger and occasional back seat driver in a vehicle driven entirely by the irrational will.

John Michael Greer said...

Grandmom, er, first you said things were just as bad in 1880 as they are today, now you're saying that they weren't so bad until the 1920s. We agree that the public schools are a disaster and have gotten steadily worse for decades, to the point that sending your child to one arguably counts as unintentional child abuse. My point is that there have been times and places in this country where public schooling has been a great deal better than it is today, and the things that made it better could be identified and put back into use. Are you disagreeing with that?

Mountain Mama, you're welcome and thank you. We also have an encyclopedia here at home, a 1950s-era Encyclopedia Americana; for most subjects, it's considerably more accurate and detailed, not to mention less subject to ideological bias, than Wikipropaganda.

Shane, I tend to think of the "troubled kid turned around by a caring teacher" narrative as a bit of propaganda meant to shift blame from the system to individual teachers -- "if we had more teachers like (insert made up character here), kids wouldn't get into trouble" and suchlike rot. There are plenty of caring teachers, but they're in the bowels of a corrupt and dysfunctional system that lost track of the welfare of its inmates (aka "pupils") decades ago.

Mgalimba, sure, and I've also seen plenty of social-media memes generated by corporations, Monsanto among them, that consist of outright lies meant to boost quarterly profits at the expense of human and environmental health. If that didn't happen as often as it does, the social-media memes to which you object wouldn't have a fraction of the audience they do.

Varun, I trust you've taught yourself disciplined habits of study since that time!

Shane, nope. The Republic of California probably would have, but it's been too busy fighting civil wars to get around to it.

Steve, he was indeed.

Genevieve, exactly. The stunning levels of practical and intellectual ignorance that are standard in the US these days aren't going to be viable much longer -- a case could be made that they aren't viable now.

Shane, by all means use whichever term you like; I find "Gringostan" funnier.

Andrew, I'm impressed that you managed to get that put into place, and even more impressed that it hasn't gotten "reformed" out of existence. Good for you.

Jean-Vivien, yes, I've been watching it. We'll see what happens, but right now, it looks as though we may just be in the opening stages of a really impressive global economic crisis. Still, it's looked that way before.

Shane, nah, it was "No Child Left Unharmed."

John Michael Greer said...

Grandmom, good.

Pygmycory, I'm afraid you're quite correct about Canada. The Alberta tar-sands bubble turned into a pyramid scheme that sucked most of the Canadian economy into it, and as that comes apart, it's going to get very ugly on your side of the border. I hope you can hold things together.

Mick, I've had the same experience. Politicians reflect their culture; all those senators mumbing "I'm sure they'll think of something" are part of the same society that's been mumbling the same thing for decades.

Roberta, put through a comment marked "not for posting" with your email on it, and I'll forward that to Deborah.

Mustard, yes, I saw that! It's raw material for a future post on technological regression as a winning strategy and tactic in tomorrow's wars.

Cherokee, thank you! I'd been mulling over for years ideas for a novel that would stand Lovecraft's mythos on its head, with the tentacled horrors as the good guys, but it was one of those back burner things that can simmer away for years. Last fall, all of a sudden, the entire narrative came crashing down into my mind and I wrote a 70,000-word novel in seven weeks. The next volume in the series, The Weird of Hali: Kingsport, is about 50,000 words along, and will top out around the same length as Innsmouth; Lovecraft fans will know from the title that "The Festival" is a major influence, though I've also woven in quite a bit of Chambers' The King in Yellow and Machen's The White People, with a nod to "The Terrible Old Man." Volume three, which is in outline form at this point? The Weird of Hali: Chorazin. Wish me luck!

August, you were lucky to have good teachers, and also lucky in your choice of a year to be born in. I also had some gifted teachers, but there really wasn't much they could do, given the way the system had frozen up around them.

Hapibeli, once your granddaughter's old enough, get her interested in ham radio and you can stay in touch indefinitely!

Auriel, good question. The environment won't be free of persistent toxins for quite some time, of course.

Glenn, if you found a program that was right for your daughter, good. It does happen -- it's just that functional schooling these days in the US is an exception rather than the rule.

Caryn, I'll certainly consider hanging some children's artwork and putting in a bulletin board, too. I'm delighted to hear that your son is learning about peak oil; every human being who grasps the idea that limits are real is a contribution to our species' chances of survival.

John Michael Greer said...

Onething, it replaced classrooms with big "complexes" that were the size of small gymnasia, and had various "learning stations" to which groups of kids were frog-marched at intervals. The noise was constant and made it impossible to concentrate or think; the teachers (four to a complex) had even less time to devote to individual students than if they'd been in classrooms of their own; and what was at the "learning stations" was the latest, avant-garde, content-free cerebral flatulence from an assortment of prestigious universities, and thus inevitably as boring as it was uneducative. Oh, and the school had a big library, which was locked before and after school and during recesses. You could only go there when your group of kids was frog-marched there for some kind of project, and even then you couldn't check things out if they weren't for the officially sanctioned project. When we moved and I ended up at a standard elementary school in a different district, I was as surprised as I was overjoyed to find that the school library was open for an hour after school and you could actually, like, browse through the shelves and take home half a dozen books to read on subjects that didn't have to be preapproved by a teacher.

Warrior, you're most welcome.

Crow, hmm. I wonder whether the men have a different interpretation of the fact that they get to use a recreational drug and the women don't...

Donalfagan, school should change lives, and in exactly that way -- by introducing young people to things that interest and excite them. Memorizing canned answers to multiple choice questions does not cut it.

Moshe, because it makes zero economic sense to have competing trolley systems in a single city, but railroads running different routes are quite another matter. Yes, I know that the current behavior of today's crop of corporate fat cats has done a lot to make a competitive market look bad, but government bureaucrats aren't necessarily any better; one of the points of the Retrotopia story is to remind readers that we used to balance government and the market against each other, and though it had its problems, by and large it worked better than letting either one take over and run things unchecked.

Leo, they probably would have. My wife went to Catholic schools for three years, and they played a large role in driving her permanently out of the Catholic church.

Shane, exactly. Hicksville is based on close reading of accounts of hundreds of similar farm towns all across rural America. It's not an imaginary ideal; it's something we had once and could have again. As for rationality, I really do need to do a post on that, don't I?

Scotlyn, the Friends have been using a very specific form of consensus effectively for hundreds of years, which includes some very useful features for keeping a minority with an agenda from hijacking the proceedings and preventing similar abuses. Those protections have been systematically removed from the forms of consensus that have been marketed so enthusiastically all over the leftward end of the political landscape for decades now, with the predictable result that consensus politics as now practiced -- outside of the Friends and a few other places -- generally amounts to a system of manipulation and exploitation on the part of a minority that knows how to play the game, and can't be removed or even opposed because there's no mechanism to rein them in. If a group wants to use Quaker-style consensus, complete with all its bells and whistles and a willingness to disfellowship those who try to abuse it, I'm good with that -- but democratic process is generally easier to learn and use, and much less prone to the current set of abuses.

John Michael Greer said...

Other Tom, I always figured that the point of the timewasting maneuvers was to weed out potential applicants who couldn't handle timewasting maneuvers, and the rest of what counts for corporate culture these days. That said, you're right about the schools; they manufacture feedstock for human resource departments.

Shane, recreational drugs also go in and out of fashion as a function of shifts in culture. I suspect it's because a drug that encourages popular states of mind will be favored, and one that conflicts with them will be tabooed. Until the 1960s, the US encouraged the states of mind that are produced by alcohol and tobacco, and discouraged those that are produced by marijuana; now that's changing, and so are attitudes toward the drugs in question.

Pantagruel, thank you! Yes, it's going to become a novel -- I've already got a publisher lined up -- and I'll see if I can fit Annie Oakley in there somewhere.

Jon, a less centralized and centrally controlled education system would permit room for that sort of thing. That said, there's much in favor of systems that have been tested over several generations and worked very well back in the day.

YCS, yes, it really is that bad here. The flight to mediocrity is another thing that's driven by educational policy, by the way -- in the US, if you do well on a test you make everyone else look bad, and they understandably resent that.

Raymond, the US equivalent is the National Education Association. Like most US labor unions, it's a sprawling bureaucracy that concentrates on getting its members as much money as possible -- not always effectively -- at the expense of all other concerns.

Ed, see my previous comment on deliberate technological regression as a winning military strategy. That's going to get a post down the road a bit.

Ray, one of the things that makes the education mess so disastrous is that so many parents have been sucked into a set of beliefs that makes failure look like success. I'm sorry to hear your school was a victim of that effect.

Clay, I'm sorry to hear that. Thanks for the data point!

LatheChuck, and thanks also for those data points!

Kevin, exactly. That's the chasm that's opening up beneath the feet of so many of industrial society's endeavors; having become convinced that everything real must be quantifiable, people went on to convince themselves that what the numbers show is reality even when everything else contradicts that claim. Thus we get an economy that's "recovering" even though poverty and permanent unemployment are soaring, schools that are "getting better" when more and more high school graduates each year can't read a restaurant menu, and so on.

Brian, yes, I saw that. Heh heh heh...

Emmanuel, so noted, but that's very much a partisan view.

Shane, certainly a possibility!

Shane W said...

and I'd imagine that marijuana will come to be restigmatized in a place like Lakeland, which values human productivity, though not to the level of the stark raving insanity of Reefer Madness. BTW, legalization has now created the market for "lite" marijuana, for older, responsible people who want to toke a jay and get a little high without getting stoned off their gourd.

Justin said...

Up here on the east coast of Canada, we're a little insulated for now from the fallout from Alberta. Fortunately, I work in manufacturing at a company that mostly sells to the US - so the low dollar and low resource prices are working OK for me for now, but of course that won't last.

I do have to wonder what it will look like here in Canada in a few years if the oil price does not recover soon - and there's no evidence that it ever will, of course. I'm really not sure what to do in my position, as a young technical professional who isn't in debt - housing prices are out of my reach in the city I live in anyway - but no real assets or postindustrial skills. I don't own much in the way of energy-wasting toys except for a decade old car that isn't worth much and have a few months pay in the bank, but no useful hard assets either.

Lots of people that I work with have bought cars in the last two years, generally ones that are worth about half a year's pay. Its pretty weird.

Regarding school, I had the dubious pleasure of attending a school arranged into 'pods' - 4 classrooms surrounding a common area with computers, separated by moveable walls (which never moved). It was an utterly awful experience, and I can only imagine how much worse it has gotten. Here was the issue as I saw it: School, was a miserable, degrading experience for many people, especially but not exclusively boys. Disengaged students are bad students, so the curriculum becomes degraded to the point where even someone who doesn't care and isn't trying can be certified as having a 12th grade education. I was on the verge of failing every year in high school and in fact had to take remedial courses to be allowed into an engineering program at a mid-tier university, that I later graduated from with an above-average GPA.

I'm looking forward to reading Retrotopia, having recently read Star's Reach. One question: Some of the ruinmen in Star's Reach have solar-powered flashlights, how do they work? I assume that means that you think some sort of PV manufacturing will exist in the future? Is there any technical basis for low-tech PV? Or is it a lens focusing light to heat a thermoelectric element?

John Roth said...

One question about the school visit. The teacher mentioned the "three Cs." I can't find them anywhere. I expect one is probably communication and the second is calculation, but a word for the third isn't coming.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Thank you, JMG. I'm glad to learn that you favor branding irons for those golden words of yours.

Back in the days when I was an active college teacher, I used to present a similar idea by using an extended metaphor. Suppose, I told my students, that each of you is playing a very old-fashioned video game with a steering wheel, trying to keep your car on the road (on the screen) as it traveled ever faster toward the game's prize destination. You are so lost in your game that the car and the road seems real to you, as does the reward once you reach your destination.

But in reality, to a dispassionate outside observer, that old-style video game machine has been mounted on the back of a creaky farm wagon, pulled by a team of horses, with a half-insane deaf-mute driver seated on the box holding the reins. Because the game is so demanding, you have lost sight of all these things. Yet your real task is not to keep the car on the road that you see on the game screen. It is somehow to find a way to get through to the half-insane deaf-mute driver, so he can take you to a destination that really matters. And you have to do that without spooking the horses in the process. For if the horses are spooked, they will run away and probably carry the whole shebang over one of the nearby cliffs.

The metaphor actually made sense to the students back then, when they still remembered the first primitive video game machines that you could only find in an arcade, and you had to put real money into a slot if you wanted to play them. I'm not sure it would make any sense at all to a college student now.

latheChuck said...

For all our lamentations about "teaching to the test", my sense is that it's a half-way useful response to instances of "teaching to nothing".
My school days were to a large extent well spent with interested and engaging teachers, that was four decades ago, in a special place (where my father had been a teacher, and where my algebra teacher was a former student of my grandmother. Let that sink in for a minute...)
However, I've heard many tales of teachers who were willing to slide through their days. Without tests of SOME kind, how does anyone know that a teacher is doing anything other than babysitting and crowd control? K-12 education is a peculiar product which no one will buy twice, no matter how much they like it, and everybody buys once, no matter how much they hate it.
Are teachers to be evaluated only by principals sitting in once in a while? Then the complaints are all about subjectivity and favoritism. Are students to be evaluated on written work? When I review the writing of my junior staff, I can spend more time correcting, directing, and suggesting than they do on the writing. It's hardly practical with five students, much less twenty-five.

If there were a good way to do education, I suppose we'd have found it by now.
All we've found are ways which are uneven at best, and which suppress excellence if it shows up uninvited.

Near-peer tutoring, though... that shows promise!

Grandmom said...

The article I posted in from 1880 talked about this new institution of public schools and how awful they were. Communities at the time built their own schools (one or two room) and hired their own teachers, much like the Mennonites and Amish near me do now. Public schools were different than community schools or schools run by churches in that every taxpayer was expected to fund these schools and there was a bureaucracy instituted to hire teachers, supervise them and create curricula. Public schools didn't really take off until they became mandatory for all children, with forced attendance and that was closer to the 1920's by the time it was the law in every state.

Every couple of decades it seems the public school system gets "reformed". The first one was around the 1920's when curriculum was standardized into subjects and grade levels based on what the bottom 20% of a class could accomplish in a school year. There was another reform in the 1960's because we had to keep up with the Soviets and we needed more math and science courses. I think we know how well that focus on math and science worked out. There was whole language and the removal of grammar and phonics in the 1980's. Then the full implementation of standardized testing in the 2000's. Our local school district elementary school has 43 days of testing in a 180 day school year, so 25% of the year. All the testing is completed by beginning of March (!) which begs the question "what do they do the rest of the year?" Why pajama day and movie day and fun day and field day and blah blah blah. Just call it a daycare and get it over with.

After homeschooling for the past 8 years it is shocking how fast children learn and any curriculum we pick for a subject doesn't even last a full school year. The parameters of "subjects" and "credits" make everything dull however so they've pursed many other interests. They've mastered sewing, oil painting, string instruments (violin and cello), knife throwing, basic cooking and gardening. One child earned 6 college credit by borrowing college text books and taking 2 CLEP exams. School is such a waste of time. Unless you are one of those families whose child plays sports, because that is the real focus these days - sports teams and competitions.

Moshe Braner said...

JMG said: "it makes zero economic sense to have competing trolley systems in a single city, but railroads running different routes are quite another matter."

- I beg to disagree. Railroads running different routes are like trolly systems in different cities, they don't compete (as much). But there is zero economic sense in having more than one inter-city rail line serving the same small towns, therefore that is a natural monopoly.

I have an American atlas from the 1950's in which each state has a full-page map, and those maps do not show the roads, instead they show the railroads. And in areas like Ohio every single little town was on a rail line. Pretty amazing to see, and so sad we let that system get dismantled. Here's an example that's relevant to Retrotopia

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