Friday, February 18, 2005

FLOW as a Revival of the Feminine

In order to create better ways of living, we need to find a way to allow distinctively feminine understandings to prevail. In the world in which we have created, a world based on legal restrictions and technological devices, we are controlled by abstract rules and useful gadgets. But the distinctively feminine contribution to life will only flourish when females and males alike are allowed to create better schools, better communities, better relationships, better social norms, and better cultures.

Maria Montessori was an unrecognized genius. She created a mode of education in which children learn spontaneously, happily, in a nurturing environment. Every educated adult should observe classes at a good Montessori school. Her pedagogy is nicely summed up in her quotation: “The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’”

Children spontaneously teach themselves in a great Montessori classroom. I was once giving an internet executive a tour of a Montessori middle school classroom and he exclaimed, as he observed the students busily working away without apparent guidance “How do you get them to do this? This is exactly what I want my employees to be doing!” This brilliantly designed environment, resulting in initiative and independence, is precisely why Ayn Rand was an advocate of Montessori education as the best education for free human beings.

But Maria Montessori’s work was undermined by the public school system, by education professors, and by militaristic nationalism that preferred conformist indoctrination to liberating education. Montessori education has been crippled for a hundred years by these hostile forces. We now see Montessori pre-schools spreading rapidly (in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, hardly a hippy haven, there are more than 100). In a free education market, liberating Montessori K-12 schools, of the kind that I would like to create, would steadily gain market share.

In the absence of government controls and restrictions, more female geniuses like Montessori would have created more and better ways to learn and to live together. Females are often better than males at constructing humane ways of living and interacting. They are often better at creating environments that nourish the spirit. They have a greater commitment to beauty, to community, to raising children, and to love.

There was most certainly a social prejudice to be overcome: European culture in the early 20th century was aggressively patriarchal. Maria Montessori was the first female medical doctor in Italy, and I’m sure she faced abundant bigotry. Unfortunately, as the battle for female social equality gradually gained ground in the 1960s and 1970s, so called “progressive” thinkers were simultaneously committed to massive government intrusion in our lives.

Just as our society was becoming wealthy enough to allow for more and more entrepreneurial efforts in education and community building, the 60s radicals imposed harsh legislation dictating how life should be lived. They created a confrontational judicial system that encourages lawsuits, they created a vast regulatory apparatus that reduces flexibility in employment, they created a federal bureaucracy devoted to dictating how children with learning disabilities should be taught, they created a welfare system that systematically destroyed black families, and they created a mind-set attached to the notion that academic researchers advising bureaucrats could make our lives better.

I have met many talented women who went into business, law, social work, psychotherapy, and other fields aspiring to do good, aspiring to fulfill their desire to nurture and help others. Surprisingly, in my experience those who went into business are often the most fulfilled in this respect. Many of those who have gone in to law to help women and children have found themselves devoting their time to bitter divorces and dealing with the ugliness of the state child protective services. Those in social work often find that their public agencies can do very little to help their clients; they manage to provide stop-gap measures for some, but there is often little sense of real progress in improving lives. Those in psychotherapy in private practice may find their work rewarding, but those who work for institutions often find themselves to be slaves of a bureaucratic system that systematically prevents them from providing their clients with what they truly need.

Our deepest problems have to do with culture. Culture, in turn, is based on those day-to-day habits and attitudes that shape our lives. It was necessary to destroy patriarchy, and yes, there is still work to be done. But after the destruction had taken place, there should have been an opportunity to create a better alternative. By means of deliberately designed schools, communities, health care systems, insurance companies, and other alternatives, a multitude of new micro-cultures could have been created that successfully resulted in more egalitarian male-female relationships while also creating responsible norms of sexuality and civility. Instead, the 60s succeeded in destroying previous standards of sexuality and civility without replacing them with anything in particular.

As a result, we now live in a world in which the most popular computer game which rewards teenage boys for raping and killing a prostitute; in which rap artists rhapsodize about violating and killing women; in which Mary Pipher reminds us that American teen culture is a “girl-destroying place.” Uncivilized, or inadequately civilized, males are a terrible threat to women and children.

I interpret the rise of social conservatism as a reaction to the irresponsible destruction of social norms in the 60s. Had institutions been created that had allowed for the creation of responsible new social norms, that were more sexually egalitarian and open without being irresponsible, the current reaction would not exist. If, instead of writing essays on the masturbatory aspects of Emily Dickinson and how all heterosexual sex is rape, more feminists had worked as entrepreneurs, creating better schools, communities, and health care modalities, our lives would be vastly better today.

We need to re-feminize our culture by allowing more feminine entrepreneurship in the creation of schools, communities, and health care.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Sales and Pygmalion

Sales careers allow for upward mobility far more than is realized. And they allow for the creative development of one's self as well.

Two books that provide more surprising reconciliations of these opposing positions than one might at first expect:

1. Napolean Hill's Think and Grow Rich, is a 1930s book that reads like a marvelous combination of 19th century self-help and 1990s new age visionary material.

2. Dale Carnegie's original How to Win Friends and Influence People. The original version of Carnegie's book (again, 1930s?) surprised me by being far more literary than are the contemporary Dale Carnegie advertisements. Almost every chapter included a quotation by Emerson, the arch-advocate of individuality.

As with most dualisms, the dualism between being affable and engaging, on the one hand, and being authentic and individual, on the other hand, is a false dichotomy. I'm sure that most of us have been slighted for being too idiosyncratic and not sufficiently conformist at times - and thus we have the distaste for the obsequiousness that we usually associate with sales and Dale Carnegie. There are certainly oily individuals whom I personally find repulsive who seem to have followed Dale Carnegie's guidelines.

That said, the most engaging people manage to combine deep authenticity with warm personableness. That is, it is possible to be true to oneself and to "win friends and influence people." Doing so may be an art, balancing the yin and the yang, but the fact that it is an art of balance means that we should honor both sides of the balance, and not despise one or the other. In a free society, many dimensions of human behavior that currently seem to be cartoonish and awkward will gradually be developed into amazing and dazzling arts.

In my schools I have always told students that they should strive to be amazing. I believe that there are 6 billion different ways to be amazing, that there are an infinite number of rich niches to be occupied, and that the entire goal of education is to help each young person discover who it is that they can be magnificently better than anyone else. We all have a comparative advantage; we are never allowed or encouraged to discover it.

Another relevant book, by a Jungian psychologist: James Hillman, In Search of Character and Calling, which is a paean to individuality; it is a good book for parents to read to help them appreciate the individuality of their children in the face of the enforced conformism of the education establishment.

“In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential that we embody, and if we do not embody that, life is wasted.”

~Carl Jung

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Teach Poor Kids How to Sell

Poor kids are not taught how to sell.

If you look at the classified ads in any major newspaper, the majority of jobs fall into three categories:

1. Jobs that require a credential based on advanced technical education (mostly medical and engineering).
2. Jobs that are low-wage with little opportunity for advancement.
3. Sales jobs: very high potential income, no degree required.

If a person from a low-income household doesn't happen to be technically-inclined, what are they going to do? Get a liberal arts degree at great expense? I know of many bright working class people who think of education as a waste of time.

But what if they really, really learned how to sell? Suddenly numerous high-paying jobs would be open to them. Moreover, successful sales people often rise to higher positions in entrepreneurial sales organizations. Entrepreneurs must be capable of selling their ideas. Expertise in selling one's ideas is crucial to success within most organizations.

In my classroom work I was actively developing students' ability to be articulate. Often times I would explain to students: Speaking well can be your number one source of earning potential. If you can speak clearly and persuasively, you can achieve just about anything.

I have known several poor, uneducated immigrants who came to the U.S. with no connections whatsoever and became wealthy simply by means of their ability to sell. I have known inner-city kids who have the charisma and doggedness to be brilliant sales people - if they only had the cultural savvy and ability to speak the English of the educated classes they could become wealthy.

And yet there is no time in the standard K-12 system to develop such skills. The odd elective speech course here or there simply isn't enough, especially for students from homes in which they are not exposed to the standard English of the educated classes. They need many thousands of hours of training. You can't sell to people with money unless your speech is similar to that of the people to whom you are trying to sell. I could train most inner-city kids to speak like a Harvard graduate; but in order to do so we would have to skip much of the standard secondary curriculum (which is really a waste of time anyway).

Just another way in which existing K-12 education amounts to a cruel means by which well-meaning, earnest elites unwittingly enforce existing class hierarchies. This fact is utterly invisible to most academics because most academics have never had a sales job, have no respect for sales and marketing, and, I suspect, have rarely had to get a job from the classified ads at all.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Entrepreneurizing Do-Gooders

Intellectuals are notorious for their alienation from bourgeois society. Indeed, one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century is how so many brilliant people supported communism after Stalin's mass murders, then again after Mao's mass murders, then yet again after Pol Pot's mass murders. All of this was due to idealism: The Moscow correspondent for The New York Times defended Stalin with the "idealistic" slogan "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs."

Even today, intellectuals are the group that is most alienated from market activity. Campuses may well be locus of the deepest resistence to FLOW insofar as FLOW accepts the legitimacy of most market interactions. (Making campus FLOW groups all the more important).

But as much as possible we want to shift away from the idea of political debate and towards the idea of taking real-world action. I like being able to tell any audience, anywhere, "If you want to improve education, I will help you start a school. Let's get to work on it, right now." Then I can see if they are serious, or if they just want to talk. As Karl Marx famously said, "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it."

The attempt to change society by means of intellectual debate, political conflict, and bureaucratic directive is increasingly sterile and boring. The attempt to change society by means of direct entrepreneurial action is potentially far more exciting and effective.

Often intellectuals believe that business people are in favor of markets because they are greedy. Yet for those of us who have managed organizations, to a significant extent simply having had managerial responsibilities leads one to realize that it is difficult enough to keep an organization alive and flourishing. One often comes to resent added burdens, many of which are non-sensical.

Thus the strategy of "entrepreneurizing" do-gooders is, in a sense, a very powerful non-political strategy for social change. Simply by means of encouraging more and more idealistic young people to see entrepreneurship as the best means of effecting change, we will create cadres of realistic visionaries. We hope to support and sustain their idealism; at the same time, the responsibilities associated with launching and managing organizations will make them more realistic than their brethern who remain strictly in the world of ideas.

We are now ready to re-consider the earlier Namier quotation:

"What matters most about political ideas is the underlying emotions, the music to which ideas are a mere libretto, often of a very inferior quality."

By means of encouraging and gathering a class of young idealists whose passion is idealistic entrepreneurship, we will develop apolitical movement based on a very different set of political emotions. Instead of the resentment of academics who wish to thwart business people, or the resentment of business people who wish not to be thwarted, we hope to create a class of entrepreneurs whose first emotion is the joy of creation, and who are recognized for this.

Imagine a political movement that was not based on resentment of the other?