"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Playing the Hope Card, Doing the Knowledge

Last night I watched Obama in Boston on CSPAN. And sure enough, it was just like his rally in New Jersey, which was a chance for me to see one of the very few integrated public gatherings (other than a football game) since I moved here 5 years ago. And as he turned trump after trump to dash the doubters of his audacious mission to transform a dispirited and fearful America, I was inspired, I was moved.

He made a compelling case for why he and we should not wait, and as he did so, I thought about a comment I overheard the other day by one of those New Jersey ladies: "If Obama wins, the blacks will be getting kind of an attitude." This was one of those ladies who is not afraid to ask her real estate agent to keep blacks from buying in her cul-de-sac, the same lady who is married to the electrical contractor who gets red in the face when talks about all the money being poured down the drain in those Abbot districts, where funds are going to rebuild the schools that have never been integrated, the same funds that allow the same electrical contractor to spend a couple of hours at the gym during the work day complaining how the public funds are wasted.

When Obama talked about education, he was less inspiring. He talked about success stories in the urban schools in the same way as the blind sorority girls at Ed Trust, who believe that if teachers, parents, and children try and wish hard enough, they can overcome the effects of poverty that show up every time they take a test, every time they have to dodge bullets on the way home from school. I think Obama would be one of those Gates-Broad embracers, someone who could be sold a bill of goods by using the KIPP chain gang model of "work hard, be nice" or get out of my school. I worry about that, but I am not sure Hill and Bill would be any different.

I know that Obama is inspiring a whole new generation to the challenge of re-imaging the Dream. That is, no doubt, one of his highest trumps. But, you know what? When I look at the devastation of the past eight years, I think it might require some adults to get this train back on the rails.

And yet, I think Obama has thought deeply about the problems in store. One line that is central to his message is that he cannot do it alone. He wants to instigate a bottom up movement, he says, a ground swell that will sweep aside the corporate opposition to change.

Yes, I think that Obama has thought some about these issues, but I don't know about the rest of us. When I think about how different an Obama rally looks from the grocery store, the church, the school, the university, the street of America, I wonder how much we know about what we know and what we do, and I wonder, too, if there is not a great deal more to learn for all of us about our own good feelings and egalitarian impulses when we are at those political rallies--where it is safe and cool, too, to have a dream. I wonder if the same enthusiasm will be translated to change on the street, in the school. Maybe that is where it has to start, though, maybe that is where the fire will be re-lit, maybe that is where the knowledge will begin again.
We affirm that at the core of all the troubles we face today is our very ignorance of knowing. It is not knowledge, but the knowledge of knowledge, that compels. It is not the knowledge that a bomb kills, but what we want to do with the bomb, that determines whether or not we use it. Ordinarily we ignore it or deny it, to sidestep responsibility for our daily actions, as our actions--all without exception--help bring forth and validate the world wherein we become what we become with others, in that process of bringing forth a world. Blind to the transparency of our actions, we confuse the image we want to create with the being we want to bring forth. This is a misunderstanding that only the knowledge of knowledge can correct. --Maturana & Varela, 1998, p. 249.

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