The Spiritual and Activist Roots of Modern Education


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       Activism is an interesting perspective, to say the least.  I first found out about Greenpeace while working for the Massachussetts Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG).  While originally founded by Ralph Nader, the PIRG's continue with their original purpose of community organizing while the redoubtable Mr. Nader has moved on to bring his perspective to more controversial settings.  Our hardy band of campaigners wrote letters on Greenpeace campaigns after an evening of knocking on doors.  Their magazine was impressive, as their websites are now, with its intensive coverage of extensive environmental issues.  I may have heard about their whale campaigns and the Rainbow Warrior, and only recently learned that three valiant souls, one formerly of the Sierra Club, another a Quaker, and another interested party combined to create the "Don't Make a Wave Committee."  At that vanguard time in 1971, they were protesting the U.S.'s underground nuclear tests in Alaska.  

     For our part in the 1980's PIRG's, we were discussing local issues, ultimately no less important.  In fact, one included the community of Woburn, Massachussetts, where a large lawsuit, excellent book, and the 1990's movie, "A Civil Action" with John Travolta all resulted.  Greenpeace, meanwhile, is now well-known to be accompanied in the ranks of civil society by many other organizations, many for the good, including WWF, Amnesty International, and Oxfam, who incidentally preceded the Rainbow Warriors in history, and Friends of the Earth, Earth First!, and many others.  While all this activist action is exciting and inspiring, part of me asks, Why?  Why should we be needing to fight so hard?  It reminds me how, years before in high school, I once asked myself the question about all the classroom learning and even preparation for college, "How does it all fit together?"  Now, years later, I have been ready to ask, "Why does Greenpeace and Civil Society seem to be so in line with the religious and spiritual origins of Western Civilization, and yet so marginalized?"

       Since I first attended meetings of the Democratic Socialists in a Massuchessetts-based college, to working for the Public Interest Research Groups after graduation, to my current studies of Sustainable Development, the subject is so interdisciplinary and multidimensional, it can be surprising some times.  I read a comparison once of Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz and their views of Palestine and Israel regarding their differences.  Our own clarity of our own identity can be helpful, it seems to me.  Barack Obama shows how a healthy self-acceptance permits an alignment that is characteristic of the public mainstream American image and affairs, in which normally Anglo-Saxon culture is the standard.  Since the first immigrants of the Mayflower, or the Bering Strait, much can be gained by understanding the strengths of different cultures and their ecologies of trees, water, plants, animals, insects, and earth.       

       I raise this issue as I have been enhancing my own awareness of my own Brazilian and German heritage, as an American born and raised here to first generation "immigrants."  As a diplomat, my father might qualify more as an "expatriate."  My mother's status is less clear to me.  Nevertheless, she came here after some business classes, and was working here when she met my father.  My brother and I were born not too long after.      I absorbed a love for my new country, and once found a story I had written as a child about a scientist inventing a formula which could keep the U.S. strong.  My father's later work with the U.N. involved the independence of colonies, and reflected his doctoral focus at MIT, an awareness of the impact of multinational corporations.  Thus I gained a strong foundation of skepticism and alertness to the alternatives to the image these companies have propagated through much American media, many politicians, and many of its people.  However, the prayer or invocation of that ringing phrase, "God Bless America," has a different significance for me, and for many of us who have identified the basic problems with the mainstream images of this country, our country.  Dishonesty, misrepresentation, and aggressive antagonism always disturbed me.  I once wrote a short letter to my high school's newspaper about the Contras of the ex-Somocistas and the era of the Reagan Administration.  It expressed my concern that violence against the Sandanistas was not the American Way, that if we sent teachers there, we could educate them as to it.  Another student, from a local private school and a wealthy family, responded with a long letter to the editor intoning the Domino Theory of Communism.  I didn't retort, since I was busy with a lot of other things.  I once met him at a party, and just passively shook his hand without a comment.      

      Through studies in Biological Anthropology, and various types of work, including several years in social services and investor relations, I also involved myself in plenty of activist activity.  Little had to do with my own family's background, until other factors intervened.  My personal sense of social connectedness was not satisfactory.  While I have not really shifted my general interest in reforming my home country, the U.S., I have expanded my sense of who I am, and the attitudes of my own roots of the "Old Countries," and how U.S. behavior has impacted them.      I have learned about the problematic pasts of the countries in my family?s background, and the lack of a historical basis in those places for a culture like the U.S.  Modern democratic culture is the result of specific threads in Anglo-Saxon history, is still only being built in most places, and often remains intimidated by guilt, lack of distinction, and U.S. aggression.  Moreover, of course, most U.S. multinational corporations and their representatives have distorted the traditional and reliable democratic values and created a divergent form that redefines the pursuit of happiness and justice with minimal reference to the social, religious, and spiritual origins and obligations of modern education and democracy both.      

     The invasion of Iraq symbolizes much of this distorted thinking and the psychosocial and socioeconomic types and groups of individuals who promote or are vulnerable to it.  Nevertheless, books like William Greider's The Soul of Capitalism, Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism, and Cornell West's Democracy Matters are tastes of the wide and diverse efforts which reflect the integrity of large numbers of people and groups.  I want to add to that list Uma Outra Economia E Possivel by Andre R. de Souza et al, Krieg Um Ol, Oder Friede Durch die Sonne by Franz Alt, and How the Rich are Destroying the Earth by Herve Kempf.  Of course, the international networks of NGO's like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam, Amnesty International, and attendees of the World Social Forum also reflect the breadth and universality of these insights.         

      Nevertheless, one significant perspective has come to my attention, similar to issues raised by William Greider in the book mentioned previously.   My insight is that the justification of financial wealth and economic activity as the definition of quality and happiness has a foundation in the teachings of Jesus, in spite of his ample expressions of highly universal love.  His teachings on the Kingdom of God as analagous to investment of money, his insistence of his unique and exclusive role in history, that "the poor are always with us", and "give Caesar what is Caesar's", all create a foundation for the imperial economics of neoliberal pseudo-free markets and pseudo-free trade.  Jesus' act of clearing the moneychangers from the temple thus might be what translates as kicking out Saddam Hussein, for oil and mainstream democracy.   In my search for the underlying motivations of imperial anti-social capitalism, these elements have come to my attention.  Thus it is easy to see how love becomes domination and elimination of alternatives.  At one level, in these constricted views, in the practice of multinational absentee and management investor and anti-social capitalism, Jesus is being justified and the "Devil" destroyed.         For those of us who are already involved in activism at various levels, I suggest that this awareness can provide us with insight to cope more dynamically with the problem unfolding daily, now with China, India, and the rest of the world intensifying the activities of mainstream industry.       

     The activist perspective can be linked to the understanding that all people can thrive and learn through education, whether non-management, non-investor employees of industrialized nations or struggling farmers and the unemployed around the world.  Modern education is based on mutual respect, integrity, and communication, reflecting its origins in Church organizations, and the efforts of St. Thomas of Aquinas.  This culture is based on the teachings of universal love by Jesus, building on Judaic teachings.  Through the studies of therapeutic psychology, the historical philosophies of Kant and Hume, and sciences of Newton and Darwin, have been lead into practices revealing new insights into the power of empathy and emotional awareness.  Male and female practitioners from Freud to William James, Carl Jung to Harry Stack Sullivan, from Carl Rogers to John Bradshaw and Virginia Satir, and organizations like the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association have created new insights into the workings of psychosocial and psychosomatic healing.  Jesus did kick the moneychangers out of the temple, he lived and talked with the struggling and marginalized, he taught parables of washing his disciples? feet, of the Great Banquet for the poor and sick when the privileged would not come, of love and forgiveness for the poor, sick, and crippled.  He mentioned not just ten Beatitudes for peacemakers, the poor, and the mourning, but the seven Woes for materialistic people concerned with superficialities and law, and not kindness, justice, and understanding of God.  His teachings of the extent of love are known already by many, to the level of "turning the other cheek" and giving the shirt off one's own back.  He taught that leaders would be in the spirit of his teachings if they did not behave like benefactors, but as servants.  He is recorded as having spoken of listening and learning, and that followers would do greater things than what he did.  While science, economics, and democracy are perhaps identified with this principle by many, it is the activists and educational institutions which give us the clarity to distinguish what people in power attempt to dictate, and what a broader study indicates is true.      

      As the psychology of Jean Piaget, and cross-cultural studies reviewed by Michael Cole and Sylvia Scribner show differences between cultures, they also justify the successful ability to expand perspectives by essentially all people of any and all backgrounds.  The accomplishments by George Washington Carver and Astronauts Guion S. Bluford, Jr. and Mae C. Jamison, along with the development of networks of historically black colleges, provide poignant examples of the full abilities of all human beings to achieve.  Manuel Berriozabal and Joan Esnayra of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) demonstrate this further.        Modern education and activism are essentially Christian practices that have disavowed their true nature.  Thus, a holistic and multidisciplinary perspective allows us to reveal the truly sustainable nature of modern society and Western Civilization hidden in the accurate details beneath its popular images.   With activism largely possible through the least pretensions of democracy and its modern education, it is inextricably linked to the historical origins of this new knowledge and learning.  Unions, like the U.S.?s AFL-CIO and the international IFTU, draw their roots from the protests at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  The new alliance of Aristocrats, neo-Aristocrats, and Merchants using technology to create factories on a large scale functioned through Parliamentary and Congressional elective politics and legislation.  See GDH Cole on England and W.O. Henderson on Europe, while Joseph Rayback, James Green, and Howard Zinn touch on the U.S. process.   Modern education arises mainly from the Western Universities, and their cosmopolitan and dissident practices within an academic community.  For example, a critical historical juncture happened in the 1600?s a few decades after the English pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.  Isaac Newton came to ponder the fall of an apple, building on Galileo's observations of Jupiter with a telescope, Copernicus? studies of classical astronomers, and other achievements.    

     While Newton has become a scientific giant, he also characterized God as a clockmaker distant from the universe he created, alluded to in Richard Dawkins contemporary work, the Blind Watchmaker.  Leibnitz, another mathematical giant and contemporary giant of Newton?s, advocated a view of God as still active.  Moreover, Newton?s Principia Matematica arose only because of DesCartes? previous mathematical developments.  DesCartes reflected not just on math, but on the nature of God.  The fuller freedom of the French DesCartes' intellectual efforts had essentially become possible because of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther's clear analysis of the New Testament and the Catholic Church?s materialistic practices, and break to form a new and renewed line of Christianity.  It is probably worth noting also that in his liberation from the Church,  he also found a female companion in his wife and family.       

      However, Luther?s own combination of analytical and spiritual thinking developed out of educational curricula following the efforts of St. Thomas of Aquinas.  In the 13th Century, when Marco Polo the adventurer in Asia, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare, and some other famous figures were all making history, St. Thomas of Aquinas took what he learned from a gigantic figure in St. Albert Manus and laid the foundations for the modern world.        To review St. Thomas of Aquinas? views is to rediscover Western thought which still acknowledges the original kind of spiritual nature and foundation of modern society which can be traced back to the religious and spiritual founder of the Church.  In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas used Aristotelian logic, a Greco-Roman gift from the Islamic world, to identify four fundamental laws, Eternal, Natural, Human, and Divine.  Eternal Law recognizes God?s rational plan for all creation, Natural Law the laws discoverable by human practice of reason, Human Law created to administer society, and Divine Law as indicated or revealed in the Scriptures.  See the Stanford Encyclopedia online for more detailed discussion of St. Thomas of Aquinas? work.       T

      he World Council of Churches, the World Conference for Relgions of Peace, and the U.N.E.P. Interfaith Partnership for the Environment might offer some religiously inclined views highly consistent with this demystification of secular Western Civilization.  The Templeton Prize winners and their highly intellectual approaches to integrating Rationalism and Religion similarly advance this understanding.  Thomas Berry?s ?Great Story? approach and Matthew Fox?s New 95 Theses also provide particularly considerate Christian approaches to this view.  John Cobb?s contributions to Herman Daly?s work on whole cost accounting and socioecological economics, For the Common Good, also provides clarification in this direction.                   

     How can all these arguments be summarized?  My argument can perhaps be summarized as, "Jesus taught investment, but moslty he taught the Good Samaritan, a considerate love for the sacred nature of life, society, and all people.  He referred to listening and learning, and to acts being done greater than his.  From Greenpeace to Oxfam, from the MST Sem Terra's of Brazil to the Greenbelt Movement of Kenya, from Fair Trade cooperatives in India to efforts in China, there are many reasons to remember how education has a spiritual nature and history, that embraces all manner of approaching the modern world with a considerate love that doesn't need to dominate through force and elimination of alternatives.  Inclusion of alternatives is not just a modern development of Greco-Roman logic and democracy, it is modern Christianity that sees the externalized costs of investor capitalism, and the higher truth of grassroots culture and activism.