Monday, September 04, 2006

A Few Words from Marietta Johnson

September 4

I'm reading Teaching Without Failure, the book compiled by the Marietta Johnson Museum in Fairhope, comprising Youth in a World of Men and Thirty Years with an Idea, the two books Mrs. Johnson wrote. Some of what is in this is exactly what we have been discussing on this blog so I thought I'd share it.

One of our commenters said he had no idea what the word perfection means as it relates to human behavior or experience -- he said in the "Comments" section on his blog, not this one -- and didn't seem to think anyone had ever considered perfection a goal. Mrs. Johnson writes, "If education is to become a conscious agent of building a better world, it must emphasize the all-round life of the learner. Of course, one should read and spell accurately and use numbers correctly. It is important one should have one's facts at command. But education has been too engrossed in marshaling facts, of drilling the young and emphasizing skill and information. If education devoted itself utterly to providing the right conditions of growth, the aim would be immediate, that every child should live as perfect a life as it is possible for him to live now.

..."'When I was a child I spake as a child, I thought as a child, I understood as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.' We are still acting on the child plane. We have not yet come into man's estate. In our emotional-spiritual lives, we are still individualistic, personal, selfish. We must become universal, impersonal, unselfish. Education must be a positive force of saving regenerative power, given to every child the best opportunity for the fullest development, the most complete realization.

"Every problem which now confronts civilization will be solved eventually only by education. All the problems of labor are, no doubt, due to lack of development. Henry George pointed out years ago that all social problems are due to ignorance, indifference, or contempt of human rights." [Happy Labor Day, readers! -- Mary Lois] "A fully developed individual earnestly seeks to understand the rights of others, and is keenly interested to see that fundamental justice prevails. The waves of crime which so often sweep over us are proof of the wrong conditions of growth. All bitterness in religious controversy indicates arrested development. All race prejudice is also due to undevelopment; our international problems will be solved when man comes into the full stature of manhood."

I need not remind you that this was written in the 1920's, before Hitler had come to full power (Mrs. Johnson was fond of saying that Julius Caesar and Napoleon were cases of arrested development). The social problems she faced were daunting, but she felt we would be close to having them solved by now, because the answers were so obvious to her and so many of her education colleagues. I am always brought up short by something I read in this book, and I recommend it to anyone interested in finding the Fairhope that once was or a fair hope for the future of society. The book is sold at the Marietta Johnson Museum, if you happen to be in Fairhope (it's open between 2-4 P.M., in the old Bell Building on what is now the campus of Faulkner Community College, but I would think it would be closed today). If you want to order it online, just click here.

And take it easy today. It's Labor Day.


Bert Bananas said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bert Bananas said...

Okay, second try....

"Every problem which now confronts civilization will be solved eventually only by education."

While I can't quibble with the point of Ms. Johnson's prediction, I cannot take comfort in it because it's akin to claiming that we could do away with elevators if we could only gain the strength necessary to lift ourselves by our bootstraps.

It boils down to this: Who gets to identify "...every problem..."?

Can you imagine the discussions that would evolve if we tried to decide whether 'religion' was a problem or not? Is 'patriotism' a problem or not? How about monogamy? How about 'lying'? This list can get pretty long and even thinking about it might be a "problem."

Who identifies the "problems" and who gets to create the curriculum to correct said "problems" and how much power do we hand over? George Bush? Osama Bin Laden? They'd both love to...

I am not doubting that Ms. Johnson's heart is in the right place, but I am certainly a doubter when it comes to anyone, or any committee, being able to identify our problems and the solutions and not go unchallenged.

Other than myself, of course. But then, who doesn't feel that way, and isn't that one of the "problems"?

Benedict S. said...

Bert: Maybe, by the word "education," Mrs. Johnson had in mind "training people to think." But I agree with you that even if we were all great thinkers, the problems would still be difficult to define & solve. Nevertheless, educating people to function as whole human beings, and not just as little programmed robots, would (in my opinion) open up more possibilities for achieving "perfection." And if I have read Mrs. Johnson correctly, that's what her educational program was all about.

Finding Fair Hope said...

I thought I had posted here an hour ago but apparently that comment got lost in I don't remember what I said. But thanks, bananas, for taking this post seriously with such a difficult subject.

Marietta Johnson was one of those 19th Century idealists who expected the world to be made better with a little help from her and her friends. Her bailiwick was education, and she may have had tunnel vision -- but what a tunnel! what vision! That if we were taught to think for ourselves we could correct our own errors. I'm sure she believed that by the end of the 20th Century mankind would have evolved into an almost-perfect being.

As to who gets to identify the problems, there are enough to go around. One was that her educational system was shot down after her death and now only exists in one little school in the middle of nowhere. But it did breed enough idealists to keep trying.

Robin said...

bert, you make a valid point and I want to point out one more problem, who defines education?

Social conditioning is what others have told us or implied
to us, imposed on us, forced on us, suggested to us, "sold" to us
openly or otherwise, and that we "bought" and now operate on
unthinkingly, unexamined.

Personal conditioning is what we have told ourselves,concluded, judged, assumed, imposed on ourselves, forced on
ourselves, suggested to ourselves, or "sold" ourselves on openly
or otherwise, and now operate on unthinkingly, unexamined.

The CONTENT of conditioning and conditioned ideas may be
true or false. It's not the truth or falsity but rather the
_unthinking, unexamined_ nature of conditioning that we are
addressing here. We adopt a conditioned idea without considering
whether it's valid or workable, without considering the
consequences of holding that idea, without considering other
options, and/or without considering how the idea fits with the rest our knowledge.

Much of becoming an adult is learning how to think and
evaluate for oneself all the things we were taught in school or
church, learned from family or peers, or picked up by osmosis
from the culture, television, advertising, workplace, etc.