A short story.

The Hidden Valley.

An autumn day in the valley…

It seemed that he had always lived in the hidden valley. He had a blurred memory of a time before this, as a young child being carried by his mother along the sea shore, hearing the sound of the waves, seeing a line of clan people ahead of them, a clan whose leader, his mother later told him, was his own father. But that was all he could remember and there was an unreality to it, more a dream than a memory.

His name was Rom and the valley had been his home these past six summers. Sitting at the entrance of the shallow cave where he lived with his mother and his uncle and cousin, he gazed out into the valley, now lit up on the northern slopes and sheer cliffs by the late afternoon sun. Despite the warmth he felt from the sun’s rays, there was a hint of chill to the mid-Autumn day, time to prepare for the coming cold season.

Rom’s mother, Ana, was already doing that, out on the slopes at the far end of the valley, gathering the wild sorghum grass. She needed the seeds for grinding into flour to thicken the soups she cooked, the stalks to be woven into strong thread to be used in making new rabbit skin cloaks for the growing boys. Her brother Gerin was close by, teaching his son Loki how to use one of Gerin’s axes to cut the dead branches of a pine tree for fuel. Rom could hear the sound of the axe echoing in the valley. He would have been out with them now, but two days before, following Loki up a cliff to gather berries, he’d slipped and sprained his ankle. Rom’s cousin Loki was almost two years older than Rom and more agile, already a clever hunter, but as Gerin was observing, not as patient as the younger boy in learning to use and make stone tools.

Gerin was a good teacher. Rom thought about how he had also taught the boys to use a sling shot for hunting, how to hold the two ends of the sling and place a stone in the bulge in the middle, how to whirl the sling and build up the momentum to hurl the stone. At first it was difficult to control direction and distance but with practice the boys learned to hit a target. It was not long before Loki could hit a knot in a tree at twenty paces, then thirty. Rom was not so quick but with practice became almost as proficient as Loki. This was often the way with them, quickness versus patience.

Ana was now returning to the cave, her basket filled with sorghum. Rom put away the rope net he was mending and began preparing the fire for cooking. No need to light a new fire, an ember smoldering in last night’s ashes was quickly brought to life with a scattering of dry leaves and Rom’s breathe.

Setting down her basket Ana asked Rom to show her his ankle. She smiled. ‘No swelling or redness,’ she said, ‘tomorrow you can go with Loki to gather the rest of the acorns.’ Rom looked pleased. He enjoyed visiting the green world of the oak grove in the south-west of the valley, the giant oaks grown from acorns brought to the valley by clan women long ago. He also liked taking the baskets of acorns to the lily pond to soak the acorn nuts in a pool for a day to remove their bitter tannin. The large lily pond, where Loki and Rom sometimes fished for minnows, lay at the foot of the highest cliff, the pond replenished in wet weather by a small water-fall spilling down the cliff.

Rom watched as Ana began preparing their evening meal. This was a favorite time of day for all of them, succulent cooking smells, wild garlic, roasted lily rhizomes, whatever had been gathered during that day, sometimes a small rabbit or pigeon if Loki had been lucky in the hunt. For a small group such as theirs, familiar with its food-plants, the valley was a place of plenty through all seasons except the coldest winter months.

Then there was the enjoyment after the meal, especially in winter when night set in early, the brilliancy of the heavens’ countless stars hidden behind cloud, of telling stories around the fire. The story the boys found most exciting, but one which each boy’s parent did not enjoy telling, was the events of that terrible spring day when the clan departed the hidden valley for the last time.

Three stories of the clan…

As very small children they had heard the story, in part, as Ana and Gerin talked in low voices at the fire at night while Loki and Rom pretended to be asleep. Then when the boys got older, Gerin told them the whole story, how the clan had taken the old path, leaving their winter home in the valley, to move into the forest to hunt game and gather forest plants. For half a morning they had walked along the sea shore until they came to a wooded incline and took a familiar track into the dark shelter of the forest. Another half morning’s walk, the track getting steeper, Gerin, carrying his tools and slowed down by Loki, Ana carrying Rom, were lagging behind and the clan were already out of sight. Suddenly the small group heard sounds of shouting and a woman’s screams. Gerin motioned Ana to take the children and hide in a nearby thicket.

Stealthily Gerin climbed the rise to see what was happening. What he saw made his blood run cold, the clan surrounded and outnumbered by a band of men he’d never seen before. They were a hideous sight, their faces painted with fiery-red pigment and lined with black markings, they looked scarcely human, the effect made more savage by the animal skulls that dangled and rattled from their belts. He saw one of the men raise his club and smite the clan leader, Rom’s father, a mortal blow. Gerin watched no longer. Slithering down the hill he sped to the thicket where Ana and the children were hiding. The look on his face conveyed his message before he spoke: ‘We must go, Gerin whispered, ‘and quickly!’

They fled by a different route to the well-used track, a longer and more difficult way through the underbrush, but more concealed. Stopping only once to drink from a brook, it took them all afternoon to reach the sea shore. The sun was already setting, less danger of being followed now. They made for the water’s edge, Gerin brushing away their tell-tale footprints down to the sea.

Through the night Ana and Gerin walked along the shore, carrying the children, who slept, then woke, feeling the adults’ urgency, and slept again. It was past midnight when at last they reached the hidden valley. While the children slept in the cave, Gerin and Ana worked to conceal their presence, erasing footprints to the valley entrance, hiding it with pine branches.

For several days, after this, Gerin regularly surveyed the coast for signs of the painted men. They were men of the inland, unfamiliar with the sea … they had no women with them … they were on a raid … He hoped that they would return to where they came from but he could not be certain … They did not come. When Gerin recounted these words, Rom and Loki would shiver and drew closer to the fire. But for the boys it was more a frightening story than a real event, for Ana and Gerin, it was a painful experience to be recorded in the telling.

The first time Gerin had told them of the death of the clan, he had said that when Loki and Rom were old enough to make the difficult journey, he and Ana and the children would trek to the Great River and join the gathering of the clan by all its family groups at a ritual and trading meeting that only happened on certain times of the harvest moon.


Leaving the valley, thought Rom, would be like another clan story of departure, told at the fire by Ana and Gerin, the clan’s journey long ago from the cold north, following the silent reindeer across the ice, traveling south to find a new home. The story was always accompanied by a clan song, sung by Ana in a clear, high voice, accompanied by three stamps of the foot at significant moments. Sometimes Loki and Rom would join in with piping voices.


There was a later story too, of the discovery of the hidden valley, the clan’s winter shelter, a story passed down by Ana and Gerin’s grandfather from his grandfather, of how two clan boys, climbing over the rocks, had come across the hidden crevice in the cliffs, just wide enough to allow a man to enter the valley. The clan had passed this way before but never seen the entrance, the south-eastern wall curving in front of the south-western cliff face so that the entrance was difficult to find. In telling this story, recalling happy times with the clan, Ana and Gerins’ faces would light up and their voices become animated.

For Rom and Loki, memories of their early childhood in the hidden valley, were especially joyful. Memories of exploring the valley together and playing on the beach outside the valley, digging in the sand, and in warm weather, learning to swim in clear rock pools when the tide was out. And there was the food! Mussels, small crabs, fish that Gerin and Ana caught in the clan nets, helped by the boys splashing and shouting in tidal pools, driving the fish into the nets. Ana would cook the fish on hot rocks in the fire, Rom’s favorite food.

But this was to come to an end. That was a story that Loki would tell, the night of the earthquake, three years ago. As the main actor, it was Loki’s story and he always told it in exact order and with the same words, for this was also clan story. After they’d eaten dinner that night, Rom asked Loki to tell it once more.

Loki’s story and the aftermath…

Standing with his back to the fire, Locki began the story:

‘There had been a bad storm that night that kept us awake, but at last it was over and we fell asleep. We had not been sleeping long when a loud rumbling sound woke us up. We thought it was thunder but then we felt the ground shaking. ‘It’s an earthquake!’ cried Ana. She had been in one before. Then Gerin told us we must move as far from the cliffs and trees as we could, and so we ran into the middle of the valley. We didn’t know what to do but Gerin told us to sit in a circle, facing outward and holding hands. We didn’t know if this would help if the earth cracked open, perhaps the spirits were telling us how to be safe. The earth shook and rumbled again and again, there was so much noise, around us, beneath us, but at last it stopped. We did not dare return to the cave and after a while we fell asleep where we were.

I, Loki, was the first to wake up. No birds singing, perhaps they had flown away. I wanted to see what had happened to our valley. It didn’t look too bad. Some fallen rocks, a line of uprooted shrubs, the cave was the same, a tall pine not far from the entrance was leaning to the sea a bit but it was still standing. Then I saw what had happened.’ Loki paused. ‘The rock cliffs had come together. There was no crevice in the rocks, no way out of the valley. ‘Father, Father,’ I called and he came. Ana came and Rom too. We all looked and looked but there was no crevice …’ Here Loki paused again, as he always did, then added, ‘And so we are closed up in the valley. But one day we will find a way out.’

After Loki finished the story, there was silence, as there always was, each of the group thinking their own thoughts. Rom thought about how the earthquake closing their entrance to the outside world had changed how he felt about the valley. It was still his home and he loved it as a home, but now he was aware of it as something else, an enclosure, preventing them from doing anything new, from meeting with the rest of the clan. He had to find a way that they could escape.

A few days after the earthquake, Gerin and Ana had spoken with the boys. There was a new urgency to life in the valley. They hoped a way could be found out of the valley but in the meantime it was important to pass down their clan learning to the boys, make them skilled, not only in clan man -knowledge, tool-making and hunting skills, but woman-knowledge as well, for one day in future, there would be no woman to prepare the food or know the healing properties of plants that Ana had learned from other clan women.

And so began more vigorous training than before, less time for play, and now, three years after the earthquake, Rom, and even Loki had taken on some of their parents’ seriousness and thoughts for the future.

It became a monthly ritual for Gerin and the two boys to walk the perimeter of the valley studying outcrops and niches in the cliffs, looking for a navigable path to the top. There was a place on the north cliff where goats made sorties down the cliff-face to forage on nettles and the young cherry tree seedlings that grew from seeds that spilled down the cliff from the trees above. Loki was sure that he could climb it if he could get a fishing net to a certain rocky outbreak and swing it across a gap to catch on to the rock, look, there, he pointed. ‘Even if you could haul the net there,’ said Gerin ‘it would be too dangerous.’

Rom agreed, but one day when he and Gerin sat napping flints, he said, ‘I know it’s dangerous, but if it’s a way out we should think about it. If the rope net wasn’t so heavy, if it was not as wide, but longer, it would help us climb. Rom didn’t know it but he was inventing a new use for the fishing net as a rope ladder. He drew in the dirt to show Gerin what he meant. Gerin nodded. ‘We can make it,’ he said, ‘we can burn off parts of the net and bind them together, we’ll start tomorrow. But it’s still dangerous and we should keep our thinking free to look for another way to escape. That leaning tree, for instance, if we got it to fall, it would need to fall across the peak. Is it tall enough to reach the cliff do you think?’

Winter comes to the valley…

The search for an escape route from the valley was interrupted by the arrival of a fierce winter. This was not a time to leave the shelter of the valley or even the cave in the worst weather. Gerin and the boys used those days by the camp fire to make the rope ladder and were proud of their efforts, but that was all they were able to do. The weeks passed. Both Ana and Gerin developed a cough but Ana’s was much worse. She dosed herself with tea made from cherry bark to relieve her hacking cough, and when she became too ill to leave her bed, Rom pounded and soaked the bark to make the tea for Ana. Rom also cooked the evening meal. Loki brought armfuls of fire wood and Gerin heated water to make a steam inhalant to ease Ana’s breathing. Gerin was worried about Ana. In cold winters failing lungs had been a common cause of death in the clan, and Ana’s breathing was becoming labored.

There was one night when they all knew Ana was worse. She tried to sit up to breathe the steam inhalant Rom held before her, but fell back… ‘Rom,’ she whispered, ‘you must all leave the valley!’ And she spoke no more…

They buried Ana on the slopes of the north cliff, a place touched by the last rays of the setting sun. There were no flowers to strew upon her grave but each of them placed something there that they valued. For Gerin it was a stone digging tool he had been making for Ana, for Loki a sea-shell he had worn as a talisman. Rom placed on Ana’s grave a small wooden bird he had whittled sitting around the fire the previous winter and which Ana had liked.

Each of them mourned Ana deeply, Rom, as her son, Loki too, for Ana was the only mother he had ever known. For days and weeks they could think of little else. Gerin’s grieving was sharpened by memories of his sister as the golden-haired, laughing girl who had married the clan leader, so different then from the serious woman she became after the death of her beloved husband and the rest of the clan. Sitting at the fire, on the long winter nights, Gerin thought about his family and how, as sometimes happens, the child of one parent resembles a brother or sister, as Loki resembled Ana, and as Rom, though blue-eyed like his father, resembled Gerin, not just the curly black hair, but in his considered way of going about things, whereas quick, carefree Loki … Thinking about the boys made Gerin sadder, ‘I am responsible for them both now,’ he thought, ‘I must try to do the best I can for them…’

Strangely it was Rom who broke the cycle of mourning and apathy. One late winter morning as the sun did its best to break through layers of cloud, Rom got up from his bed and lit the fire, heating the remains of last night’s meal. As Gerin and Loki came to the fire, he said, ‘Remember what my mother told us to do. Today we should begin finding a way. That is what she would want, and I think I know what might work.’ As Rom spoke, suddenly, as though Nature was in agreement, the sun broke through the clouds, bathing the valley in bright sunshine.


They followed Rom down to the leaning pine tree.

‘I’d been thinking of this for a while,’ he said, ‘it’s already leaning the way we want and I’ve thought of a way we can go about it.’

‘We’ll need to make sure the tree can reach the cliff.’ said Gerin.

‘I could climb to the top,’ said Loki, ‘I could take a long stick to mark on the way up.’

‘Yes Loki,’ Rom replied, ‘but there’s an easier way. Remember how we used to watch our shadows when we were young? How they’d grow long or become small, but in the middle of the morning our shadows would be the same size as us?’

‘Rom, I know what you’re saying,’said Gerin, ‘the tree’s shadow will also be the right size.’

‘And here’s the sun shining so let’s find out,’ said Loki, smiling.

At first, the boys’ shadows were too long, but after a while, measuring Loki and Rom and their shadows with a stick, Gerin pronounced a fit. Taking a length of rope, they measured the pine tree’s shadow. Three lengths and a bit. They tied a cord at ‘the bit’. Using the rope they measured the space between the tree and the cliff, a fit and with ‘a good bit’ to spare. They could do it!

In the next three days, they started to dig a hole on the far side of the tree. It was slow work, removing stones and the ground was still winter hard. Loki and Rom brought skins full of water from the pond to soften the ground, and that helped. They ceased work only to carry out the usual tasks, though Loki would sometimes disappear for a while, testing the lower reaches of the north cliff face which he still had thoughts of climbing.

Spring had come early with fine days but on the fourth day there was a return to cold weather. Rom noticed that Loki was not around. Now skilled in the use of the sling shot, maybe Loki would return with a rabbit for the pot.

But still he didn’t come. Gerin went out to look for him. Suddenly Rom heard Gerin cry out. Rom gasped. He couldn’t move. A premonition… Then he was running towards the cliff face, gulping back sobs, as he ran calling Loki’s name.

At the cliff face he saw him, a crumpled heap, the net still held in one hand, Gerin bending over him, weeping and distraught. ‘My beautiful boy, oh my beautiful boy!’ How to bear such pain. Blinded by his tears, Rom knelt and touched Loki’s white face, cold to the feel. He put his arms around Gerin’s shoulders. How long they stayed there Rom did not know. It grew dark. ‘Come, Gerin, he said, we must carry Loki to the cave.’

Gerin stood up as if in a dream, and lifted Loki in his arms. Rom led the way, supporting Gerin with his right arm and they staggered to the cave.

How he and Gerin got through the next few days Rom did not know. They placed Loki on his fur rug, he seemed asleep, his dark eyes closed, the golden hair strewn across the dark fur. Only a bruising on the slender neck gave hint of his injuries.

The day they buried Loki in a grave beside Ana, the valley was engulfed in fog. It was as though the fog was in themselves. They went though the ritual in a kind of mental haze. Then Rom helped Gerin back to the cave. That night, Gerin’s cough returned. In the next two days he grew weaker. Rom was roused from his own sorrow by the urgent need to look after Gerin. He could not lose Gerin too, he must make sure he recovered. His uncle would need nourishing food and medicine.

Keeping the fire burning, Rom became Ana, the brewer of medicinal teas and Loki the hunter. Climbing the cliffs he gathered the special plants Ana used for her medicine, the cherry bark and the fennel that acted as a mild sedative. He prepared them as Ana used to do … No time to hunt game with the sling shot, instead a Loki trick. Scattering grain beneath one of the oak trees, he climbed with the rope fishing-net to a low branch of the tree, the net partly concealing him as he crouched along the branch holding the net ready to throw. Before long several pigeons found the grain and began eating it. They did not see the boy in the tree. Quickly Rom dropped the net. Most of the birds flew away but two were held in his net. And were soon in his cooking pot.

Medicine and good food had an effect. Over the next two days Gerin was a little better, but the spirit had gone out of him. ‘He doesn’t care about living,’ thought Rom. ‘He will not get better unless he wants to live.’ All morning Rom thought about what to do. Then he knew.

That night as Gerin sat with Rom at the fire, Rom said to him:

‘I have been thinking, my uncle. When we said goodbye to Loki we were too overcome by sorrow to say those things we needed to say. I do not know whether Loki, or my mother were telling me this, but a voice inside me has told me to make a song, – it is a song about Loki, and his father too…

Then standing with his back to the fire, Rom began to sing. Both Rom and Loki had inherited Ana’s beautiful high voice, but the boys’ treble voices were more ethereal, as boys’ treble voices often are. Rom sang of the loss of a son, taken to the spirit world before his time. He sang of how the spirits of wind, water and fire had snatched Loki from Gerin and Rom because they loved his quickness and his grace. Rom’s voice soared, an unearthly sound that made Gerin think of the spirits of wind, water and air, and of Loki too.

Rom’s voice took on a happier tone. ‘But part of Loki did not go with them. We have that part of him here in our thoughts, memories of things he did, taught by Gerin, father of Loki, his teacher in so many ways.’

Rom described such moments in notes that cascaded and danced like Loki himself. At the end he sang of Loki’s courage, passed on from father to son:

‘Loki, we see you, climbing the cliff to find a way for us to journey on, then taken by the spirits, but we can hear you saying to us, ‘Father and Rom, it is time to leave the valley and wherever you go, part of me will journey with you.’’

As Rom was singing, a change came over Gerin. His shoulders straightened, life came back to his eyes. ‘Rom,’ he said, ‘your song has made our loss more bearable for me.’

The next day was the first truly golden day of Spring. Unfurling of leaves in the oak trees, the sky that powder blue with faint puffs of cloud that comes with Spring. Rom asked Gerin to accompany him to the digging site, the sunshine would do him good. And now Gerin sat watching Rom, using one of Gerin’s stone axes, hacking at one of the exposed roots of the giant pine. After a while Gerin said, ‘Let me do that.’ Rom was pleased. ‘I’ll get some water while you’re cutting it.

Rom turned from the pond to hear a creaking sound and saw that the pine was now dangerously leaning closer to the cliff. ‘Gerin,‘ he shouted, ‘you did it!’

‘Not yet.’ replied Gerin. ‘But cutting this other root should do it, and that is for you to do, Rom, as it should be.’

A few sharp blows, a cracking sound, and then a mighty crash. The tree had fallen. Rom and Gerin hurried to see – ‘We did it!’ said Rom. ‘Yes,’ said Gerin, ‘we did it.’

Rom became Loki again, climbing to the top of the tree to see how it had fallen. The spiky upper trunk was not so thin that it could not bear his weight. Resting on the cliff, Rom gazed on the sea in all its expanse of blue, even bluer than he had remembered.

The cliff peak was not so narrow that he could not crawl carefully along it. Something he had remembered was an out crop of rock that rose from the beach halfway up the cliff face. It was not far from where the tree had fallen on the cliff top. As small boys, Rom and Loki had climbed it. This would be the way down. He looked down. A rope net hung from the peak down the sheer cliff face could just about reach the outcrop.

The next two days were spent by Gerin and Rom in preparations for the journey, and by Rom, arguing with Gerin. Gerin had decided that Rom should go alone. Gerin was too weak as yet to make the journey, Rom would travel faster without him, he would wait for Rom’s return.

Rom argued in vain. At last he said he would go but only if Gerin promised that he would keep well and cheerful, cooking nourishing food, keep busy making tools …

‘I promise I will do as you say, my dear son, ‘said Gerin, ‘but now you must go.’

Rom had been depositing his tools, flints, his skin cape and dried food for the journey down the cliff on to the beach. His sling was over his shoulder. Now there was nothing in his hands to hinder his climb. Gerin accompanied him to the cliff top and said goodbye. There were tears in his eyes, but he was smiling.

Exodus – again…

It was mid-morning when Rom began his journey. With one long look at Gerin and the walls of the valley that had been his home, he turned towards the west and set off along the sea-shore, his first steps towards the Great River. So many conflicting thoughts and feelings. ‘Concentrate on the task,’ he said to himself, ‘don’t let fear or sadness take over your thinking.’ He began to sing, the song of the silent reindeer and the traveling clan. He picked up some pebbles for his sling and walked on.

Well after mid-day he stopped to rest and drink from the flask he carried in his sack. As he looked back at the long coastline, he saw something moving on the shoreline, it was too far away to see what it was. A figure? He started to walk towards it …Yes, a figure, he saw it raise an arm and wave. It was Gerin.

‘Gerin! ‘ he shouted and hurried to meet him. In that glad moment it seemed to Rom that Ana and Loki were with him and shared his joy. ‘Tomorrow,’ he thought, we will all journey to the Great River.’



A Serf Musings on Slavery.


‘Nothing so outlandish,’ observed Michel de Montaigne, ‘that cannot be demonstrated in public practice somewhere in the world.’

If you happen to be young enough, living in a Western democracy and somewhat curtailed regarding history’s long view, you might have this perception of slavery as something rare and strange. But you’d be wrong. Strange, even bizarre, it may be in its notion of humans as chattels to be bought and sold, but rare it is not. It’s been going on since before the fall of Babylon, on three continents and islands in between, and despite laws abolishing slavery, continues to this day.


Mark Twain, (Samuel Clemens’) classic novel, ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,’ reveals slavery in all its strangeness. The novel may well have been part of the abolitionist literature that contributed to the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution abolishing slavery in the United States, but it was written nineteen years later. What the novel does do is explore the evils of slavery within an ordinary, Christian community that seems unable to question those evils. Mark Twain writes that as a boy he himself did not question the idea that slaves were property.

‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ needs to be read in terms of the author’s ironic vision. What is so ironic in the novel is how perpetrators of slavery are often kindly folk, like the Phelps family, Uncle Silas and Aunt Sally, hospitable to travellers down on their luck, but exceedingly harsh to runaway slaves.

Huck, too innocent and ignorant to understand what’s wrong with his world, believing that his own defiance of that society’s mores will earn him damnation, struggles with his conscience when he reads a handbill advertising the runaway slave who is Huck’s companion on his journey down the Mississippi River:

‘The more I studied about this the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down and ornery I got to feeling. And at last, when it hit me all of a sudden that here was the plain hand of Providence slapping me in the face and letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time from up there in heaven, whilst I was stealing a poor old woman’s nigger that hadn’t ever done me no harm, and now was showing me there’s One that’s always on the lookout, and ain’t a-going to allow no such miserable doings to go only just so fur and no further, I most dropped in my tracks I was so scared. Well, I tried the best I could to kinder soften it up somehow for myself by saying I was brung up wicked, and so I warn’t so much to blame; but something inside of me kept saying, “There was the Sunday-school, you could a gone to it; and if you’d a done it they’d a learnt you there that people that acts as I’d been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire.”

It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from me, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double I was letting onto give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that nigger’s owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie—I found that out.

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea, and I says, I’ll go and write the letter—and then see if I can pray.’

Huck writes a letter to Miss Watson about her runaway slave…

‘I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking—thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his ‘n ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was;… and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a- trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up.’ (H.F. Chapter 31.)

A Little History of Slavery..

Lots of information on slavery on the internet so I’ll be brief. A history of Western slavery goes back 10,000 years to Mesopotamia where a male slave could be worth as much in value as an orchard of palms. In the time before inanimate energy like waterwheels and steam power, most work was done by animals and by us using our own muscles. Of course you’re going to get people with the means, pharaohs and emperors and powerful land owners getting the lower castes to do the work for them, less cost the better, and that means slaves, your enemy defeated in war or purchased in slave markets.

Slavery; a pervasive phenomenon.

In the Roman Empire, symbol of grandeur and obedience, sprawled across the entire Mediterranean region, slave trading was big business. At the time of Augustus, in Italy, as many as 35% of people were slaves brought from many places, in Rome, slavery was not based on race. Slaves were trained for all possible functions, with gladiators fighting to the death for public entertainment at the extreme end. Roman emperors owned thousands of slaves to indulge their every whim. Many slaves acted as clerks, secretaries and even tax agents. These were the lucky ones. Some might even be manumitted as a reward for services rendered and allowed to become Roman citizens. For most slaves, however, life was nasty brutish and short. Thousands were worked to death mining gold and silver for the Empire. Plantation slavery with its history of abuses began in Rome in the second century BC. Sicily witnessed a series of slave revolts, culminating in the great uprising led by Spartacus. When it was finally crushed, 6,000 slaves were crucified all along the Appian way from Rome to Capua.

In Medieval Europe religion was no barrier to slavery, all participated, Christian, Muslim, Hebrew. Christians had an on-off relationship with the slave trade. In the early Middle Ages the Church condoned slavery, opposing it only when Christians were enslaved by ‘infidels’. Vikings raided Britain from 800 AD and sold their captives to markets in Istanbul and Islamic Spain. In the 16th century Pope Paul III tried to stem Protestantism by threatening those who left the Catholic Church with enslavement.

The Black Death – a plague epidemic – made demand for domestic slaves soar in Italy but had some positive consequences. The decline in population in the late 14th century resulted in more bargaining power for peasants in Europe and England, leading to the collapse of the manor system and to a new urbanized Europe that paved the way for a society and economy based on different principles. In Russia where the Black Death was not so destructive, serfdom continued well into the 19th century.

South of the Mediterranean Sea dynasties of Arabs along the coast developed an African slave trade. West Africa, both as source of slaves and slave traders, became a lucrative marketplace for human cargo, a transatlantic slave trade inaugurated by the Portuguese, soon to be joined by the Spanish and others countries.

Strange but true.

Thus began the notorious Middle Passage where slaves would be loaded lying down in the holds of ships, often lying on their sides to preserve space. By the 18th century the majority of the ships that used this inhuman commerce were British ships running a triangular trade, profitable in each separate branch, departing from Liverpool or Bristol with items in demand in West Africa, cotton, alcohol and guns, then taking slaves for America to the slave markets of the West Indies, unloading and loading molasses from the West Indies for the return journey.

Ironic that Britain, the precursor of Western liberty, from Magna Carta to John Stuart Mill and the Scottish Enlightenment, (a bit like the democratic revolution under Pericles in Athens, 5th century B.C. working slaves in the silver mines,) was building its fortune from commerce partly based on the tyranny of the slave trade.

The abolitionist movement from the late 17th century on, in Britain and America, had many strands, from Quakers condemning it and society founder George Fox speaking against it in the British Parliament, to two landmark cases in law.

In England in1772 there was the famous case in which Lord Mansfield freed James Somerset, slave of an American master on the grounds that he had set foot in England. The second case, in Scotland five years later, concerned Joseph Knight, an African born slave sold in Jamaica.

For Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, nurture, not nature explained human nature and institutions and liberty not race was a fundamental issue as demonstrated in the case of Knight. When Knight was taken by his master to Scotland, and tried to run away, the master had him arrested. In 1777, his case ended up in the Court of High sessions in Edinburgh and was momentous enough to be heard by a full panel of judges including Lord Kames. History was about to be made. His brief, assisted by input from James Boswell and advice from Samuel Johnson, their argument that, ‘No man is by nature the property of another.’ Pronounced Lord Kames, ‘We sit here to enforce right, not to enforce wrong.’ The Court pronounced slavery against the law of the land.

Although Lord Mansfield had made a similar ruling five years earlier, the Scottish decision was more significant because it established a broader principle, it went to ‘the general question of whether a perpetual obligation of service to one master in any mode should be sanctioned by a free country.’ (Arthur Herman ‘The Scottish Enlightenment, The Scots’ Invention of the Modern World.’ Harper London. Ch.4.) The decision was also a vindication of the Scottish approach to law not based on precedent but on ‘the dictate of reason.’ More of the dictate of reason in The American Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson and the American Revolution

‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’

So wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1776 in the Declaration of Independence, justifying America’s separation from Britain, words that were to inspire his own and future generations to heroic efforts to make them a reality.

The Committee of Five appointed, in June 1776, to draft the Declaration of Independence, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingstone and Roger Sherman, like actors in some other powerful historical movements, the great generation of the Greek Revolution, the thinkers of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, were men of broad interests and intellectual stature. But one of them, the man who wrote the inspirational words of the Declaration, was a slave owner.


George Washington, commander of the Continental Army in the fight for independence, and first President off The United States was also a slave owner but he freed his slaves and as president established the precedent that no one should serve more than two terms in the office. Washington personifies the word ‘great,’ his character was solid, ‘honest George Washington.’ The perceptive Abigail Adams quoted poet John Dryden to describe Washington:

‘Mark his majestic fabric He’s a temple sacred from his birth and built by hands divine.’ (Cited in Smithsonian Magazine. Stephen E.Ambrose. Nov. 2002.)

Thomas Jefferson did not free his slaves, other than the children of his slave Sally Heming. Jefferson acknowledged that slavery was wrong but apparently could see no way to relinquish it in his lifetime. A man of outstanding abilities and wide reading, educated by teachers of the Scottish Enlightenment, Jefferson was more conflicted regarding slavery than John Adams who was unambiguous in denouncing it or Mark Twain, who was able to transcend attitudes of the slave owning society he was born into.

In other ways Jefferson was an advocate for the republican values of the rights of man. He was the author of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, he was committed to universal education. He proposed the plan of government adopted by The Northwest Ordinance of government of 1778, that when the populations of the Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan were large enough, they would come into the Union as fully equal states. ’

As President, Thomas Jefferson made war against the Barbary Coast slave trade. Christopher Hitchins, who wrote his own study of Jefferson argues that there would likely be no continuing Republic of the United States without two important actions by Jefferson that strengthened its defense. The first of these was the war of 1801-5 against the Barbary Coast slavers in retaliation for the capture of American ships and enslaving of their crews.

… to the shores of Tripoli

Netherlands and as far north as Iceland. Samuel Pepys writes in his diary of an entire town in Ireland being taken as slaves.

Nations paid protection money or ‘tribute’ to be free of the scourge. As British colony, America had not been a target of the slavers, but after the War of Independence it became one. In 1786, when Adams and Jefferson were sent as peace emissaries to Europe to negotiate treaties of amity, Adams and Jefferson were required by the not yet formalized Republic to negotiate payment of fair tribute with the Barbary Coast slavers. At every turn they met with intransigence and escalating demands. They were told by the envoy for Tripoli, Ambassador Abdrahaman, that as written in the Koran, the faithful should plunder and enslave sinners who failed to acknowledge the true Prophet.

Jefferson came to the conclusion that paying tribute would be more costly than war with the Barbary States, and when the United States Constitution was adopted he encouraged Congress to authorize the building of a navy to defend its interests.

In 1801 when Tripoli declared war on the United States because of late payment of tribute, Jefferson, now President, by-passed Congress, sending ships into the region under guise of overseeing the treaty but with orders to respond as necessary to situations, which they did, a bombardment that Christopher Hitchins says, led to ‘significant regime behavior modification.’

… don’t fence me in.

While he was President, Thomas Jefferson also ensured the security of the United States by the Louisiana Purchase. At the passing of the Constitution the United States was a vulnerable strip of coastal land stretching from Massachusetts in the north to Florida in the south. Jefferson wishing to make it more secure and to expand trade sent envoys to France to offer purchase of Florida and part of Louisiana, its seaport of New Orleans and hinterland. When a financially insecure Napoleon offered to sell all of Louisiana for fifteen million dollars, the offer was quickly accepted and paid for with money borrowed from European banks. In one day, at a cost of less than ten cents an acre, the size of the United States was doubled. ‘Thomas Jefferson called the Louisiana Purchase ‘an ample provision for our posterity and a widespread field for the blessings of freedom.’


Aspects of the private life of Thomas Jefferson.

In the times in which Thomas Jefferson lived, the early death of a wife and children was a tragic but not uncommon experience. During the period that Jefferson was involved in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence he was anxious to return to Monticello because his wife was ill after the birth of their sixth child. When Martha Jefferson died in September 1782, four months after the baby’s birth, it is reported that following her death, Jefferson, who had been very devoted to his charming and cultured wife, fainted and remained so long insensible that it was feared that he would not survive. Before she died, Martha had asked him, probably as a protection to her three living children, never to marry again, and he never did. Mary was only thirty-three years of age when she died and Thomas Jefferson thirty-nine.

In the following months Jefferson was offered government positions but a grieving Jefferson turned them down. On the urgings of friends he finally accepted an appointment as American Minister to France, to join Benjamin Franklin and John Adams in negotiating European treaties of amity and commerce. In 1784, Jefferson departs for Paris, accompanied by his eldest daughter Martha, (Patsy.)

Paris Affairs.

Once in Paris, Jefferson commits himself to the Parisienne life, taking an elegant apartment on the Champs Elysee and becoming much in demand at Court. He is also a regular visitor to the Adams’ residence in Auteuil, four miles from Paris. Abigail Adams, responsive to Jefferson’s family loss, soon becomes an affectionate friend. To her sister, Mary, Abigail Adams writes that ‘Jefferson is one of the choice ones of the earth.’

The ‘Adams-Jefferson Letters,’ (edited L.J.Cappon.) the complete correspondence between two of the architects of the American Republic, offers insights into the two leaders’ contributions to the American Revolution and also include many letters between Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson. When John Adams is sent to London, Jefferson writes in playful tone to Abigail Adams, ‘I fancy myself at Auteuil and chatter on till the last page of my paper awakes me from my reverie.’ ( Sept 25.1785.) An extended interval between letters did not go unnoticed. Writing to John Adams in July 1786 Jefferson says, ‘I am meditating on what step to take to provoke a letter from Mrs Adams, from whom my files inform me I have not received one these hundred years.’

And here’s a letter, not strictly true, from Jefferson apologizing to Abigail Adams for his own delay in writing:

‘An unfortunate dislocation of my right wrist has for three months deprived me of the honor of writing to you. I begin to use my pen a little, but it is in great pain and I have no other use of my hand.’ ( Paris, Dec 21. 1786.)

Thomas Jefferson meets Maria Cosway.

Lot of concealed context here. The case of the dislocated wrist. Early in 1786, Thomas Jefferson had met Maria Cosway, an accomplished artist and musician and appears to have experienced love at first sight, prolonging their first meeting and cancelling other engagements to do so.

Maria Cosway is married to another artist, an older man, something of a philanderer, there doesn’t seem to have been in a close marriage. In the weeks following the Cosway and Jefferson meeting they became constant companions. Whether there was a sexual relationship is uncertain, she was a devout Catholic, but certainly there was a warm relationship. The usually reserved Jefferson is said to have dislocated his wrist in a giddy moment, either leaping over a stone fountain in the company of Maria, or in hurrying to meet her.

When Maria’s husband decides to leave Paris for London, they spend one last day together riding around Paris in a carriage, but next day, to postpone their parting , Jefferson accompanies the Cosways on the first part of their journey to the outskirts of Paris. A despondent Jefferson returns to Paris to write Maria a 4000-word letter, using his left hand. Herewith a few extracts:

“Having performed the last sad office of handing you into your carriage at the Pavillon de St. Denis, and seen the wheels get actually into motion, I turned on my heel and walked, more dead than alive, to the opposite door, where my own was awaiting me.

… I was carried home. Seated by my fire side, solitary and sad, the following dialogue took place between my Head and my Heart.

Head. Well, friend, you seem to be in a pretty trim.

Heart. I am indeed the most wretched of all earthly beings. Overwhelmed with grief, every fibre of my frame distended beyond its natural powers to bear, I would willingly meet whatever catastrophe should leave me no more to feel or to fear.

Head. These are the eternal consequences of your warmth and precipitation. This is one of the scrapes into which you are ever leading us. You confess your follies indeed: but still you hug and cherish them, and no reformation can be hoped, where there is no repentance.

Heart. Sir, this acquaintance was not the consequence of my doings. It was one of your projects which threw us in the way of it. It was you, remember, and not I, who desired the meeting, at Legrand & Molinos…

Head. My visit to Legrand & Molinos had publick utility for it’s object. … While I was occupied with these objects, you were dilating with your new acquaintances, and contriving how to prevent a separation from them. Every soul of you had an engagement for the day. Yet all these were to be sacrificed, that you might dine together. Lying messengers were to be dispatched into every quarter of the city with apologies for your breach of engagement. … You [wanted] me to invent a more ingenious excuse; but I knew you were getting into a scrape, and I would have nothing to do with it. Well, after dinner to St. Cloud, from St. Cloud to Ruggieri’s, from Ruggieri to Krumfoltz, and if the day had been as long as a Lapland summer day, you would still have contrived means, among you, to have filled it.

Heart. Oh! my dear friend, how you have revived me by recalling to my mind the transactions of that day! …. Go on then, like a kind comforter, and paint to me the day we went to St. Germains… Every moment was filled with something agreeable. The wheels of time moved on with a rapidity of which those of our carriage gave but a faint idea, and yet in the evening, when one took a retrospect of the day, what a mass of happiness had we travelled over! Retrace all those scenes to me, my good companion, and I will forgive the unkindness with which you were chiding me. The day we went to St. Germains was a little too warm, I think, was not it?

Head. Thou art the most incorrigible of all the beings that ever sinned! I reminded you of the follies of the first day, intending to deduce from thence some useful lessons for you, but instead of listening to these, you kindle at the recollection, you retrace the whole series with a fondness which shews you want nothing but the opportunity to act it over again. I often told you during it’s course that you were imprudently engaging your affections under circumstances that must cost you a great deal of pain … that the lady had moreover qualities and accomplishments, belonging to her sex, which might form a chapter apart for her: such as music, modesty, beauty, and that softness of disposition which is the ornament of her sex and charm of ours. But that all these considerations would increase the pang of separation: that their stay here was to be short: that you rack our whole system when you are parted from those you love …
Heart. But they told me they would come back again the next year.

Head. But in the mean time see what you suffer: and their return too depends on so many circumstances that if you had a grain of prudence you would not count upon it.”


This was to be the first in a lifetime correspondence. There was a final meeting between Thomas Jefferson and Maria Cosway when she returned to Paris for a four month stay in August 1787 where Maria Cosway perceived a change in their relationship and for whatever reason they spent little time together.

Enter stage. Sally Hemings.

Thomas Jefferson was a complex, character, both as a public figure and private and individual, and nothing challenged historians and biographers more than Jefferson’ relationship with multi-racial slave Sally Heming, half sister to his wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson.

In May 1785 Jefferson learns in a letter mislaid in transit, that his youngest daughter Lucy died of whooping cough the year before and he is now anxious to have his second daughter, Mary, with him in Paris. He arranges with kinsmen to have her sent in a suitable vessel, (tribute protected) bound for England in the Spring of 1787. Eight year old Mary,( Polly) crosses the Atlantic in the company of Sally Hemings, to spend some time in London with Abigail Adams before joining Jefferson in Paris. In a letter to Jefferson informing him of his daughter’s arrival, Abigail Adams refers to the fifteen or sixteen year old maid servant who accompanied her, saying that she seems fond of the child but ‘wants more care than the child.’ Abigail mistakes Sally for an older girl, she is in fact only fourteen years old. John Adams later refers to her as ‘the dashing Sally.’

When Polly and Sally arrive in Paris, Sally’s nineteen year old brother, James, is already there being trained by a French chef. Therein lies another dramatic story. James and Sally are members of a shadow family, children of Betty Hemings, concubine to Jefferson’s father in law, John Wayles, who was the father of her six children. Sally, the youngest of these children is one year younger than Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Patsy.

In Paris, Jefferson’s two daughters lived in a famous convent. It is not known if Sally lived there too, there is no record in the convent of her being there. It is known that Jefferson had her taught French and that he bought her clothes in order to accompany his elder daughter on social outings. It was said by observers that Sally was ‘very handsome, long straight hair down her back.’ Jefferson’s grandson later described her as ‘light colored and decidedly good-looking.’

Most historians now believe that Jefferson had a relationship with Sally Heming that lasted nearly four decades until his death, and that Jefferson fathered her six children. Under French law the Hemings brother and sister could have petitioned to stay in France. It’s likely that family bonds drew them home. According to Sally’s son Madison’s later testimony, Sally Hemings became pregnant to Jefferson in Paris. She agreed to return with him to the United States based on his promise to free their children when they reached the age of twenty-one years. This first child did not survive. Six other children were born to Sally Hemings between 1795 and 1804, two dying in infancy.

At Monticello, Sally performed the duties of Lady’s maid to Martha and took care of Jefferson’s chamber and ward-robe. The Wayles family all denied there was a relationship between Jefferson and Hemings but evidence suggests otherwise.

Early historians generally accepted the claims of Jefferson’s legitimate family that he was not the father of Hemings’ children. The startling resemblance to Jefferson of servants waiting at table, that guests observed, was explained by Jefferson’s grandson as a family resemblance because Jefferson’s grandson, Peter Carr was the father of the children. Later DNA studies showed no match between the Carr line and Heming descendents but did show a match between the Jefferson male line and a descendent of Sally Heming’s youngest son, Eston Hemings.

Professor of Law and History at Harvard and later at Oxford, Annette Gordon-Reed became interested in Jefferson and drew on her legal training to apply context concerning the anecdotal and contextual evidence that was available.

Much of the legitimate family evidence marshalled against the Hemings-Jefferson connection was shown to be flawed, like the claim that the liaison was impossible due to Jefferson’s absence from Monticello. Farm book records of births show that Jefferson was always at Monticello at the time of conception of Sally Hemings’ six children, born between 1790 and 1785. Gordon-Reed notes that the Hemings children were given lighter duties than other slaves, and were the only slaves freed under the provisions of Jefferson’s will, as Sally Hemings’ son Madison had stated as an agreement between his mother and Jefferson.. The two eldest children, Harriet and Beverley, were allowed to leave Monticello in 1721 or 1722, and went north to Philadelphia or Washington. According to a Monticello overseer, Jefferson authorized him to pay the beautiful Harriet $50 and the stage coach fare to her destination. Madison and Eston Hemings , who appear reliable witnesses, both claimed that the children always knew that Jefferson as their father. Eston Hemings later changed his name to Jefferson.

…Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

History stranger than fiction. Jefferson’s life history…it’s a complex story isn’t it, enabled by the institution of slavery, contradictions and denials required involving legitimate and shadow families, seduction by Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, of a young girl that he owns, their children unacknowledged by their father, shades of a Greek drama? There’s the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, in action and in correspondence, one of the great stories, and there’s the concealed story of Jefferson and Hemings, one of the dark stories.


Gullibility and Obedience.

… An essay on education and what passes for same in K-12 ‘education’ today.


Before we go forth on this revisited attack on K-12 education today, let‘s argue in broad terms on what we mean when we speak about education.

There’s been some pertinent argument by philosophers, (but not philosopher kings , 😦 )regarding what we mean by the ‘education ‘ word:

‘Education,’ says R S Peters, ‘is not a term like gardening, which picks out a particular type of activity. Something of course must be going on if education is taking place and something must have been gone through for a person to emerge as an educated man, for education is associated with learning, not with a mysterious maturation. But no specific type of activity is required.’ (R.S.Peters. ‘Ethics & Education.’ (Allen and Unwin 1965.) p25.)


‘In this respect, education is like reform,’ Peters says, ‘it picks out no particular activity but rather, it lays down criteria to which activities must conform.’ Whatever it is, education implies ‘something valuable’ for the learner, something good in itself and not for extrinsic ends. ( P p25.) and education, Peters argues, also implies acquisition of some kind of broad cognitive understanding in the learner.

Education is not a ‘task word’ but an ‘achievement word’ says Gilbert Ryle, indicative of something worthwhile to the learner’ and ‘done in a morally acceptable manner.’ On these grounds, conditioning is ruled out as a process of education. ( G.Ryle.The Concept of Mind London 1949. pp149-153.)

From the above regarding criteria and process, it follows that ‘education’ is not ‘training,’ though training, involving focus, acquired skills and problem solving, may be a useful adjunct. And education is certainly not indoctrination, moulding ‘learners’ to fit some vision of your ideal state or maintaining a power elite in control. Contrast Plato’s process of producing philosopher kings as rigid possessors of received knowledge, with Socrates’, non-dogmatic, critical of his own errors, engaging in open discussion with the young, even with slaves.

Oh those aspirations to narrow down human diversity for Utopian ideals. From Plato’s Utopia to UNESCO’s Millennium Goal vision, social engineering programs, however noble the motive, don’t end well. We see Plato’s Republic- a blue-print to arrest all change, necessarily tailoring the plebs into docility requiring a ‘noble lie’ to bring it about, and still these top-down efforts continue. In the name of social equity, one size fits all, Western Civilization in its education program is abandoning that basic individualism inherited from thinkers of classical antiquity like Pericles, Socrates, Euripides, and the scientific and creative geniuses of the Renaissance and Scientific Revolution, Brunelleschi, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Copernicus and Galileo… (The reader might care to peruse the education curricula vitae of some of them via Wiki.)

Here in Australia, not so many decades ago, before K-12 Core Curriculum began it’s social agenda transformation of State Education, schools generally taught subject content, concepts and skills which, when taught by good teachers, emphasized critical thinking and developing student autonomy. Values education, such as it was, focusing on respect for self and others, reliability and honesty, was promoted separately from curriculum subjects. Now values education permeates every subject area in schools and would seem to be the education’s main goal, transformative education for pre-determined socio-political ends.

Take a look at what’s happening here in Oz right now since the federal government introduced its Core Curriculum. Might sound okay, a means of ensuring nation-wide standards of literacy and numeracy. Can’t argue with non-negotiable basic standards in important skills as a part of students’ journey to something of autonomy. But K-12 has a mixed agenda, it is mainly about inculcating ‘values education,’ by a concerted program from Prep to Year 12, values that the progressive state (and supra-state) hold sacred. Herewith the Australian Government document, ‘Values Education and the Australian Curriculum.


In its Introduction the document defines good practice as ‘whole school approaches to sustain values education,’ employing ‘pedagogies that are values-focused and student-centered within all curriculums,’ … ‘units are designed to assist students to integrate values teaching and learning within all the areas of the curriculum,’

The Curriculum Introduction promotes values education ‘to consciously foster intercultural understanding, social cohesion and social inclusion.’ ‘Focus at all levels is on Cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and on Environmental Sustainability. A couple of examples: ‘Celebration Ceremonies’/critical and creative thinking/changing values, changing nation/inter-cultural understanding.’ ‘Eating Green’/ critical and creative thinking / food technology, geography.

A recent social-activist program introduced into schools, the ‘Safe Schools, All of Us ‘ program is exciting some controversy, being a focus on LGBTI, i.e. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender bullying, involving radical program changes. While ‘Safe Schools ‘has as its kernel, a reasonable proposition that no one should be bullied for perceived differences, you would expect a school to deal with any bullying by promoting respect as a civic duty, even stepping up teacher presence in school recess yard duty if necessary, as in the past, But this eight million dollar tax payer funded program, introduced into schools without parental consent, goes way beyond this, involving inappropriate cross gender role play for eleven and twelve year old students, even looking to speech reforms, avoiding hetero-norm language, ‘boy,’, ‘girl’ references, ‘father,’ ‘mother,’ also targeted. Seems children at school are being made the cannon fodder of adult sexual politics.

Similar values education is taking place in the United States with a K-12 core curriculum designed to make-over students via internalized learning. Attorney Robin Eubanks in a blog called ‘Serf’s Invisible Collar,’examines K-12 aims and programs and the policies and statements that are its basis.’

In several posts from September to December 2016, Robin Eubanks analyses the factual stories, false narratives and radical transformation of policy and practices in US schools over recent decades, the many philosopher kings aspiring to be drivers of future behavior.


Exemplifying Gramsci’s ‘long march through the institutions,’ centres of education policy like Princeton and Harvard, are promoting a behavioral science approach to education to align motivations of students with socio-political goals involving actual cognitive changes in students at an internalized level… a cognitive make-over that Robin Eubanks calls ‘mind arson.’

Education for socially (politically) desired ends.

What’s going on certainly doesn’t meet Peters’and Ryle’s criteria regarding education as ‘something valuable in itself and done in a morally acceptable manner.’

There’s the UN guidelines promoting an extrinsic aim of ‘education based on the ideal of building more just societies’… ‘educational experiences must be created so that each student’s commitment to the ideals of social justice is not ‘an adherence that is purely rhetorical or cut off from how people actually behave.’

UNESCO is in agreement. Robin Eubanks cites an August 2015 paper stating that ‘the purpose of curriculum in the 21st century is to make sure that there is no ‘contradiction’ or dissociation between the cognitive and the ethical dimension in learning.’


From the above post by Robyn Eubanks a few extracts about methods and revealing more big guns behind a push for internalized behavioral changes in learners.

‘During the last two weeks documentable, official confessions of just how much our children’s very synapses and whether the regions used in thinking are rational or tied to emotions have come out on an almost daily basis…

The US BRAIN Initiative (which began in 2013) coordinates actively with Human Brain Project and goes to its programmess in Europe. Turns out part of that initiative included a Bioethics Commission http://bioethics.gov/ where we can locate the BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision report as well as the two Gray Matters reports that leave our government’s desire to interfere with internalized mental processes for political purposes in no doubt. It is also chaired by Penn Pres Amy Gutmann who was probably chosen by President Obama precisely because her 1987 book Democratic Education called on schools to shift away from the ‘well-intentioned misperception’ that schools have an “obligation to impart information.” Instead, Gutmann wanted teachers to develop the moral character of students so that they “feel the force of right reason” to reshape society.’

Targeting the reasoning brain.

In her May 23rd essay, http://invisibleserfscollar.com/fracturing-the-personal-and-social-failsafes-and-omitting-the-most-pertinent-parts-of-the-plans/ Robin Eubanks on emotions ostensibly as motivation in education, but intentionally to lock in experiences at a deep level. Here’s sociologist Anthony Giddens’ telling us‘that behavioral scientists know that what guides and motivates behavior is not what is actually true, but what is personally and emotionally believed to be true.’

Robin Eubanks refers to ‘ the organized media juggernaut hyping emotion as the key to learning. On April 27, 2016 Education Week wrote a story called “Emotions Help Steer Students’ Learning, Studies Find: Scholar sees passion as mind’s rudder” which hyped the work of Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and her new book Emotions, Learning, and the Brain. Here’s the lead quote that should probably be read with a reminder that one of the definitions of using cybernetics in education is to create a steerable keel with a student’s mind and personality. One that is locked in neurally that the student is largely unaware of.

“People think of emotion getting in the way of cognition, but it doesn’t. Emotion steers our thinking; it’s the rudder that directs our mind and organizes what we need to do.”

Gives new meaning certainly to a declared goal of ‘standards-based reforms’ and competency-based education that seek to create Habits of Mind and desired Dispositions and Attributes to be deemed College, Career and Citizenship Ready, doesn’t it? That hyping article was followed by a May 4 New York Times piece called “To Help Students Learn, Engage the Emotions.” It also hyped the same professor’s work exclusively with more quotes that resonate with initiatives like Hewlett’s Deeper Learning (omitted from article) where “It is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things that you don’t care about.”

In other words, it is experiences carefully crafted for the classroom so that what will guide and motivate future student behavior gets practiced and then locked in at an unconscious level.’

Here’s a case study, students in ‘the hive’ learning empathy …


A Texas school that is pushing an emotionally-grounded moral thinking of the kind Professor Damasio, who heads the Brain and Creativity Institute, promotes as what a new kind of 21st century learning grounded in Equity should look like.

Say, whatever happened to critical thinking at a conscious level, the kind employed by those Classical and Renaissance thinkers and artists? And if you want to harness emotion to your task, what’s wrong with curiosity? Likely Copernicus and Galileo would agree with that.

Regarding this supplanting of reasoning by emotion, there’s some cover up, such as the phrase, ‘higher order’ thinking skills, maybe Gilbert Ryle might call this ‘a cloaking phrase’. Robin Eubanks identifies obfuscation of language in the common-core’s reference to the phrase, ‘a euphemism for what the new federal legislation ‘Every Student Succeeds Act ‘requires every school in every state to assess, those ‘values and concepts that government wishes students to internalize.’

And by this regulatory Act, another false narrative is exposed, the myth of school choice in education. Behind phrases like school choice, by whatever private system or via home schooling, is the concealed monopoly of regulated outcomes-based education, designed to achieve desired transformational learning.


All together now…

If you think that government vouchers allow you to bypass that top down K-12 values, all – on – the – same – page education, think again. Brer Rabbit had his briar patch escape route, no escape route from pervasive state, values- education. The same evaluation outcomes installed by law for all schooling, ‘high quality assessment’ measuring and monitoring precisely what students have internalized and ‘what guides their sense of self.’

I leave you with this reminder by H.I Mencken regarding education and the state and a concluding comment from Robin Eubanks.

“The most erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.”
― H.L. Mencken

This, says Robin Eubanks, from the Foreword to the 1990 book, written by the Brookings, https://www.brookings.edu/book/politics-markets-and-americas-schools/

“the nation’s education problem, then, is an institutional problem. To overcome it, the authors recommend a new system of public education based on fundamentally new institutions. They propose a shift away from a system of schools controlled directly by the government–through politics and bureaucracy–to a system of indirect control that relies on markets and parental choice

…and herewith a nice example of gullibility and obedience



‘Trust!’ Say, isn’t this the cement that makes for a more or less stable society?

… Isn’t it ‘trust’ that underlies many of our daily transactions – conditional actions like communicating a confidence, arranging a get-together with a friend, participating in some kind of contract?

… Do we not collect a network of people around us that we trust – kin, some or them, a neighborhood out-reach, workmates we prefer to work with?

… And are we not, as biologist Matt Ridley describes in ‘The Origin of Virtue,’ ‘very good at detecting cheating?’ (Chapter 7.) Heck, even some animals seem to choose predator partners that are consistently good co-operators. Who’d have thought that sticklebacks could recognize each other and remember which fish can be trusted?

Could be there’s another instinct to be added to the big four, a co-operation ‘n trust instinct. Any wonder that humans’ cultural artistic baggage is crammed with dramatic creative renderings of trust and betrayal, particularly the latter. Literature from ‘The Odyssey,’ ‘Media,’ King Lear, ‘Macbeth,’ to ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ Puccini’s operas, Hitchcock’s movies, are full of it. Where would popular music and TV mid-day movies be without deception? ‘He (she) left and not even a good-bye note!’

Life without trust.

‘Life without trust.’ said Thomas Hobbes, ‘is nasty, brutish and likely short.’ A case study; the Yanomamo ‘fierce people’ of Venezuela. Anthropologist, Napoleon Chagnon, who lived among the Yanomamo for extended periods from 1964 to 1991, described their way of life as almost continual inter-village warfare, raiding and the abduction of women. At least one fourth of adult males died violent deaths.

Chronic violence, wife beating and feuding were also a way of life within each tribal village. Most of this internal fighting stemmed from sexual affairs, a failure to deliver a promised woman or a seizure of a married woman by some other man. This could lead to such internal conflicts that villages split up, each group becoming a new village and often enemies to each other.

So highly was aggression valued in the culture, observed Chagnon, that of six feast ceremonies intended to build war alliances, two of the six ended in fighting between guests and hosts.


How much trust, that is the question.

Not enough trust – bad. So is it possible to have too much trust? Well yes. Philosopher Karl Popper describes this situation in his important study of ancient and modern enemies of democracy, ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies,’ Popper analyses, in Volume 1 of its two volumes, ‘The Spell of Plato,’ Plato’s blueprint for the return to a closed and static ‘ideal state,’ a republic based on Sparta’s rigid tribal society.

Popper attributes Plato’s attempt to create an unchanging society to his personal experience as an Athenian living through the strain of an unsettled period of historical change, the disastrous war with Sparta and Athens’ subsequent civil war. The political system Plato designed to achieve a static society necessitated his ‘noble lie’ of the metals in men, enabling a hierarchical society where the gold should lead and inferior metals have their ordained, unquestioned roles.

Plato viewed the fundamental problem of politics as a question of ‘who shall rule the state?’ Whether the response was ‘the wise’ or ‘the good,’ or even ‘the general will’ or ‘the master race’ shall rule,’ the question skipped over the fundamental problem of limits to power, the problem of unchecked sovereignty. ( P. Ch.7.‘Leadership.’) Popper proposed a better question: ‘How can we so organize political institutions so that bad or incompetent leaders be prevented from doing too much damage?’

For Plato, the only institution required in response to his question of who should rule was a state-controlled education system designed to control the succession of leadership, socially engineering selected students from the leader class in preparation for the role. This system would produce the ‘wise’ leader, a god-like philosopher king, proud possessor of received knowledge not accessible to those he ruled. How different is this ‘wisdom’ from Socrates curiosity and intellectual modesty. This,’ says Popper, ‘is what Plato made of Socrates demand that a responsible politician should be a lover of truth and wisdom rather than an expert, and that he was ‘wise’ only if he knew his limitations.’ (Ch. 7.)


Life in the cave.

Plato claims in ‘The Republic’ that those whom we call philosophers are ‘those who love truth.’ But then he goes on to argue that a philosopher king must be determined to administer a great many lies and deceptions for the benefit of the city, predominantly the deception of a god-given social hierarchy based on a myth that must be believed. Thus Plato demands in ‘The Laws,’ the severest punishment, even for most honourable people, if their opinions concerning the gods deviate from those held by the state. Plato hopes that even the leaders themselves, over generations, will come to believe the great propaganda lie, so strengthening the rule of the state. ( Ch 8.‘The Philosopher King’.)

Inherent in Plato’s program is a process of utopian engineering which Popper describes as consciously and consistently pursuing an aim and determining the ends which lead to this aim, to the ‘Ideal State.’ The Utopian attempt to realize an ideal state, using a blue print of society as a whole, demands the strong centralized rule of the few, the ‘wise’ possessors of truth, philosopher kings educated in dogma that allows no criticism.

Popper contrasts Plato’s blue-print approach with piecemeal reform, a trial and error way of adapting to specific social problems that is able to take a step back if an approach doesn’t work, whereas utopian engineering, involving powerful interests linked to up with its success, is inflexible, disallowing criticism or other feedbacks.

And of course, with reconstruction of a whole society, sweeping changes have practical consequences that are hard to calculate. Let us not forget, as Philip Tetlock’s studies show, we are not all that good at predicting, what with human confirmation bias and those black swan events we can’t foresee.
( P.Tet;ock,‘Expert Political Judgement. How Good Is It?’)

Trust and precious little verification; governance Plato – style.

Despite human weakness at predicting, the Plato model has attracted philosopher king imitations throughout history, right up to those centralist, myth-based states of the twentieth century and moves into the twenty-first century, to transfer power from nation states to unaccountable supra-national authorities, – trust and precious little verification.

In that supra-sovereign state of the European Union, all the Platonist processes apply:

* Blueprint to Utopia incorporating a facilitating myth, centralizing of power by stealth.

* ‘Wise’ leadership by philosopher kings and an elite bureaucracy – regulation by fiat.

* Deterrence of criticism via limits on free speech.

* Focus on state education, government control as a means of social engineering.

Blue print to Utopia and the stealthy approach:

A little history of the EU. The European project began as the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 with six founding members, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, In 1957, by the Treaty of Rome, the ECSC became the European Economic Community with the aim of fostering regional peace and cooperation. The Treaty of Brussels in 1965 established Europe’s centralized governing body. Britain entered the EEC in 1973 assured that this would have no implications for UK national sovereignty. In 1992, With the Maastricht Treaty, the European Union was created and ever closer union of its nation states and the fantasy that the national state was not only dangerous but archaic.

At the time of the Brussels Treaty, the Australian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, in this case a better predictor than most, foresaw the usurpation of the powers of national parliaments, the large transfer of power to Brussels and an unelected, permanent civil service. ( Menzies’ Memoirs, ‘The Measure of the Years. 1970.)

‘Wise’ leadership by philosopher kings?

Wise leadership? Well no. Europe has developed many problems as a result of leadership fiat decision making. Beset by out-of-control immigration from eastern countries and acts of terrorism by ISIS terrorists in Brussels as an outcome of EU open borders’ policies, the European Union is dogged by high levels of unemployment, the growth of minority political parties in EU countries, Britain’s decision to exit the EU, all of which do not indicate wisdom by its unelected leaders. Nor do fiat decisions with regard to bailing out nations with huge financial deficits arising from philosopher king top-down currency decisions.

Europe’s vampire currency, it’s ‘A machine from Hell,’ writes Andrew Stuttaford, in Quadrant Magazine, (July – August, 2015,) describing what the euro has wrought on European nations’ economies.

Creating a shared currency, the view that one size fits all was the brain child of Brussels’ technocrats who believed that fluctuating economies were untidy expressions of market mechanisms that needed to be fixed by government experts. Although the votes for shared currency were not there, the machinery of integration ground on. The technocrats had a plan that only those countries that had ‘converged’ could sign up for the single currency. Convergence would be proved by ‘tests,’ the ‘Maestricht Criteria,’ demonstrating that these countries’ economies were sufficiently in sync regarding low inflation and exchange rate stability, to share a currency without the safety net that political (or at least fiscal) union would have provided.. (Stuttaford p 39.)

Hey, grandiose delusion, maintaining that a collection of very different economies converge on the basis of a series of snapshots. Germany is Greece?

The technocrats maintained that in the Maestricht they had set out strict criteria; no Eurozone member or the EU to be responsible for the debts of any other. No bail-outs to feckless nations. All good to go.

Hubris was followed by nemesis:

‘Interest rates across the currency union moved down to German levels … In the early 1990’s ten-year Greek government bonds carried a coupon at least fifteen percentage points above their German equivalent. Ten years later the spread was close to zero. Germany was Greece.’ (AS. p40.)

These low interest rates should have been used by the Eurozone’s weaker countries to reduce excessive borrowing and help develop their economies achieve international competitiveness. Instead they spent like there was no tomorrow, the European crisis was on.

Greek interest rates splurged. EU leaders recognized that if Greece tumbled, there were plenty more dominoes to fall. Let the bail-outs begin. After Greece, a Portugal bail-out, then a second Greek bail-out followed by a partial Spanish bail-out and a Cypriot banking collapse complete with bail-out. Says Christine Lagarde, ‘We violated all the rules because we wanted to close ranks and really rescue the Eurozone.’ ( A.S.p 41.)

‘Regardless of what the continent’s repeatedly snubbed voters might actually want,’ says Andrew Stuttaford, ‘the EU’s ruling class will push integration forward. As ever the process will be step by step. The pain in much of the Eurozone’s periphery will persist, sometimes acute, sometimes merely chronic. One size will not fit all. The vampire currency will linger on, draining democracy and prosperity as it does so, but no one will put a stake through it.’ ( AS p 42.)

Deterrence of criticism, those limits on free speech.

Remember Plato, in ‘The Laws,’ demanding severe punishment for even the most honourable of people if their opinions concerning the gods deviated from those held by the state? Your top-down authority can no-way abide free-speech.

Regarding top-down control on free speech, go no further than that supra-behemoth, the United Nations. With its General Assembly, International Court of Justice, Security Council and seventeen specialized agencies employing tens of thousand of highly paid civil servants housed in its palatial buildings in NewYork, Geneva,Vienna, The Hague, etcetera, its annual budget into the billions, not sure how much, it’s never been audited, the UN has acquired control over nation states by a kind of creeping governance.

Treaties, sometimes called Conventions, and Customary Law are two sources of international law that the UN uses to by-pass democratic parliamentary constraints on centralized authority. And these laws are created by the fifteen justices on the International Court of Law, up to half of whom come from non-democracies and are selected by a method that could only be described as opaque. James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland, in an essay, ‘The Problem of Creeping International Legal Rule,’ describes this process of out-reach.. https://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2016/09/problem-creeping-international-legal-rule/

The first source of back-door control over domestic law is via rights’ related treaties like the UN Convention on Rights of the Child, which are written in sufficiently vague and amorphous terms that they allow future interpreters to add detail and specifics at the point of application. The second source of control is customary international law. Customary international law has never been agreed to by any democratically elected and accountable legislators, its content cannot be found in any treaty, whether ratified or not: ‘If treaties and conventions are democratically deficient in comparison with the statutes passed by parliament,’ says James Allan, ‘ then customary law comes close to not having a democratic bone in its body.’ (JA P47.)

And who identifies and decides customary law? The answer is that ‘publicists,’ those legal academics or law professors deemed ‘sound’ by a progressive in-group, make the judgments. And no one outside the in-group gets to vote for these publicists. ‘They have no democratic warrant at all. As a group they may well have political and moral views that diverge from those of most of the general public.’ ( JA. P 47. ).

James Allan cites four cases in the UK in the last five years that show how the role of rights-related international law is being ratcheted up. In these four cases, relating to immigrant extradition and benefit payment issues, some in which the government prevailed and others where it lost, several judges in making their judgements gave international law preference over domestic law.

‘Stealth and nibbling away. ’ That is how Allan describes the way international law side-steps democratic, debatable social policy. Views imposed from a bureaucrat echo- chamber disconnected from what the wider public may think or wish to say.

There’s another supra – national organization on the block.

The International Panel on Climate Change, founded by the United Nations, is another organization with expanding top-down influence, this time in climate- science. Skeptical criticism of its theory of dangerous, anthropologically-caused global warming from CO2, of its modeling projections that don’t match observations, and opaque temperature record adjustments bringing the record into line with CO2 emissions, are just two of the problems to be brushed aside.

A problem raised at Dr Judith Curry’s blog, Climate Etc, h/t the poster known as ‘Science or Fiction’ is the politicization of the IPCC, and of ‘how heavily biased the IPCC was from its beginning.’ ( SoF. 22/11/2016. Post: ‘The real War on Science.’ )

Report of the second session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 28 June 1989

Science or Fiction argues that the Principles governing IPCC work are more or less free from sound scientific principles or scrutiny and that ‘the United Nations allowed the IPCC to be governed by :

-the unscientific principle of a mission to support an established view,

-the unscientific principle of consensus.’

For a graphic view of the merry-go-round internal review of the IPCC writing and review see below …for some reason I am unable to reproduce the charts.


That which may not be said …

‘Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth … and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right.’ John Stuart Mill.

Controls on free speech – that which may not be said may not be thought – John Stuart Mill and George Orwell are very good on this. It’s happening throughout all western democracies. Here in Australia, home to a large number of immigrants of different race and nationality, our government has embraced a multi-cultural policy with the aim of restricting an array of opinions that might offend people from ethnic or religious minorities, and so in1975, the government enacted a Racial Discrimination Law.

Behind it all was the United Nations and its agencies claiming globally escalating racism and offering jurists throughout the world new opportunities for normative legislation, (and new scope to further their careers.) The result of this was an increase in limitations to free speech that included the 1995 Declaration of Principles of Tolerance and UNESCO 2001 Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity.

The Australian Government led by Prime Minister Keating dutifully took up the diversity banner by passing a contentious 18C amendment to the Racial Discrimination Act which states: ‘(1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise in private if (2) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and (3) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.’

When he introduced 18C, the Minister for Immigration, Senator Nick Bolkus, oblivious to the Orwellian resonances of his rhetoric, told the Parliament that it was designed to eliminate ‘speech crimes.’

This insidious tactic to limit public discourse has a more dangerous effect, as the advocates of political correctness have grasped. As Winston Smith discovered in Orwell’s ‘1984,’ there is a close connection between language and thought and that by limiting what may be said, we limit what may be thought, an attack upon intellectual freedom itself.

Here in Oz, since amendment 18C became law, there have been a number of prosecutions of members of the press as a consequence of someone claiming to be ‘offended’ by journalists’ statements deemed racist, though the statements, in one case a cartoon, are able to be substantiated in fact. If such debate had been disallowed in the famous Dreyfus Case in France at the beginning of the 21st century, when Zola ran his public ‘J’accuse’ campaign against institutional corruption, Dreyfus would have likely ended his days on Devil’s Island.


A second move to government non-accountability, the Finkelstein Enquiry, involved an attempt to impose censorship on the press, by establishing an Orwellian Ministry of Truth, a News Media Council, funded by government and with decisions enforceable in the same way as the decisions of government agencies. Even the left wing press did not come at this, and it was not passed.

Less fortunate, Great Britain, enjoying an uncensored press from1695 to 2013, but now does not. Making use of a relic of medieval powers, the Royal Charter, the government has established a dystopian system of press regulation mediated by government, the very thing, as one of democracy’s checks and balances on power, the press was never meant to be.

Focus on ‘Educating ‘as a means of social engineering.

Not going to attempt a philosophical discussion of ‘what education is,’ but can say something pertaining to what it is not. ‘Education’ is not ‘training,’ though training maybe a useful adjunct, and it is not indoctrination, moulding ‘learners ‘ to fit some vision of your ideal state. Contrast Plato’s process of producing philosopher kings as rigid possessors of received knowledge, with Socrates’, non-dogmatic, critical of his own errors , engaging in open discussion with the young, even with slaves. And then there’s the skeptical Michel de Montaigne saying, ‘Nothing so firmly believed as what we least know,’ and setting himself a task of critical self-observation in his essays on experience, friendship and virtue.

So what’s the state of modern education in the West, will it enable the development of your Socrates or Montaigne? Here’s John Stuart Mill again:

A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch , a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation, in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body.

Well, a case can be argued for government ‘funding’ of schools. Without funding there’d be children denied education because parents are unable, or unwilling, to pay for their children’s education. And of course, society benefits from the literate and numerate citizenry state education produces. Problem is that the regulators of this standard of literacy and numeracy, the politicians and bureaucrats, are also its provider, a conflict here in how well the regulators assess students’ literacy and numeracy progress year by year. Who guards the guardians?

And then there’s that ‘moulding’ problem of state education. Take a look at what’s happening here in Oz right now since the federal government introduced a K-12 Core Curriculum. Sounds okay, a means of ensuring nation-wide standards of literacy and numeracy. Can’t argue with non-negotiable basic standards in important skills as an important part of students’ journey to something of autonomy. But K-12 has a mixed agenda, it is mainly about enforcinging ‘values education,’ not some by-the-way emphasis on honesty and respect for self and others, but a concerted program from Prep to Year 12 to instill in students certain values that the now progressive state holds sacred, values of respect for racial minorities and concern for environmental sustainability. Take a look at the Australian Government document, ‘Values Education and the Australian Curriculum,’ 

In its Curriculum Introduction the document defines good practice:

‘Whole school approaches sustain values education .’

’Use pedagogies that are values-focused and student-centered within all curriculums.’

‘Use values education to consciously foster intercultural understanding, social cohesion and social inclusion.’

In all K-12 curriculum areas units are designed to help teachers assist students to integrate values teaching and learning within all the areas of the curriculum. Focus at all levels is on Cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders and on Environmental Sustainability. A couple of examples: ‘Eating Green’ /critical and creative thinking / food, technology, geography. ‘Celebration Ceremonies’/critical and creative thinking/ changing values, changing nation/inter-cultural understanding.

Nearly 500 schools are using the Safe Schools program and the State of Victoria has ordered all schools to sign on by 2019. The teaching guide has students as young as 11 role playing, imagining they are 16 and going out with someone they are really into,’ half the students pretending they are with a partner of the same sex. More on transgender ‘education’ here:


Similar values education is taking place in the United States, with a K-12 core curriculum designed to make-over students via internalized learning. A blog called ‘Serf’s Invisible Collar,’  run by Attorney Robin Eubanks, examines K-12 aims and programs and the policies and statements that are its basis. ‘I figure things out.’ says Robin. ‘I started off in Big Law doing corporate work and then helped start a legal department for a small healthcare company that grew to be a New York stock-exchange traded company. Healthcare turned into an excellent background for my current work in education as government regulation and special privileges drive the everyday dynamics of what raises money and creates costs. A background in Law is also excellent preparation for determining precisely what the terms commonly used actually mean especially in an industry that is consciously using language to hide the actual intended goals.’

In several posts from September to December 2016, Robin Eubanks analyses the factual stories and false narratives behind K-12 policy formulation and practices in US schools over recent decades.


Exemplifying Gramsci’s ‘long march through the institutions, centres of education policy like Princeton and Harvard promote a behavioral science approach to education to align motivations of students with socio-political goals and involving actual cognitive changes in students at an internalized level… a cognitive make-over that Robin Eubanks calls ‘mind arson.’

Robin Eubanks identifies obfuscation of language in the common-core’s reference to ‘higher order thinking skills,’ a euphemism for what the new federal legislation ‘Every Student Succeeds Act ‘requires every school in every state to assess, those ‘values and concepts government wishes students to internalize.’ And by this regulatory Act, another false narrative is exposed, the myth of school choice in education. Behind phrases like school choice, by whatever private system or via home schooling, is the concealed monopoly of regulated outcomes-based education, designed to achieve desired transformational learning.


Well, dear reader, if you’ve managed yr way through this labyrinth of those philosopher-king, visionary-types’ attempts to control what the rest of us think, say and do, I hope you might agree with me that while a little ‘trust’ in the day-to-day is required, don’t fergit to ‘verify.’




The Aim Was Song.

Before man to blow to right
The wind once blew itself untaught,
And did its loudest day and night
In any rough place where it caught.

Man came to tell it what was wrong;
It hadn’t found the place to blow;
It blew too hard – the aim was song.
And listen how it ought to go!

He took a little in his mouth,
And held it long enough to north
To be converted into south,
And then by measure blew it forth.

By measure. It was word and note,
The wind, the wind had meant to be –
A little through the lips and throat,
The aim was song – the wind could see.

Robert Frost

We melodious few

Qui sont chanteurs?
Oh mon Dieu,
humans and birds
and a few
travellin’ whales.

Cricket chirruping don’t qualify

Only some species sing.

Signaling ain’t enough,
‘Yoo-hoo, hey-girl!’
or territory assertion,
‘Keep off!’
howling, hooting,
screeching, whooping,
effective for long –
distance messaging,
don’t measure up
on the melodic
scale of song.

Bird Song.

How doth that
song-bird emit
such glorious
concinnity, ‘tis
a mystery.

Magpie song with traffic imitation on the side.
( Modern Times. )


What have you, magpie, to celebrate?
Such glorious chortling in an arid landscape,
Leaves of eucalypts hanging motionless
In the breathless mid-day heat. It isn’t
That you can’t, or won’t complain in some
Scenarios, but rather that, by your very song,
You are constrained from self-reflexive musing,
For magpie, you may sing only the songs
Passed down the line by those first ancestors.

Songster extraordinaire, you are programmed
To voice liquid stanzas of affirmation,
Your concert repertoire scarcely allowing
For lamentation.

Songs for all Occasions.

Lyrical creation
for all occasions,
expressions of exultation,
reflection and lamentation,
follow in quick succession
in the human
book of songs.

The Four Seasons.

Spring, Summer, Autumn,
seasons for celebrating
renewal, ripeness and the harvest:
Winter’s the reverse.

Mendelssohn’s Spring Song.

Summertime and the living’s easy.

Those Falling Leaves.

Die Winterreise … Sadness Alert!

Love Songs.

Oh the human heart,
that gamut of responses
to l’amour, delight,
vexation, longing, loss,
expressed in songs that
mapamounde the Earth.

What is this thing called love.

La vie en rose.

And finally, songs of religious worship, humans’ giving voice to their sense of wonder at mysterious creation and the sublime.

Hallelujah Chorus.

Whale Song.



Well m’ dears, you’ve heard about pilgrimage corteges on those dear little medieval horses, travelling to Canterbury and such, … herewith it’s walking in Nay-chur, with three well known essayists, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Hazlitt and Henry David Thoreau making their thoughts known regarding the walking tour, walking, not for fitness or destination, but for less tangible things on which they more or less agree.


‘He who is indeed of the brotherhood,’ says Stevenson, in his essay on ‘Walking Tours,’ ‘does not voyage in quest of the picturesque, but of certain jolly humours — of the hope and spirit with which the march begins at morning, and the peace and spiritual repletion of the evening’s rest.

He cannot tell whether he puts his knapsack on, or takes it off, with more delight. The excitement of the departure puts him in key for that of the arrival. Whatever he does is not only a reward in itself, but will be further rewarded in the sequel; and so pleasure leads on to pleasure in an endless chain.’

Going it alone…

Hazlitt and Thoreau couldn’t agree more. For Hazlitt:

‘The soul of a journey is liberty, perfect liberty, to think, feel, do, just as one pleases. We go a journey chiefly to be free of all impediments and of all inconveniences; to leave ourselves behind much more than to get rid of others.’

‘I cannot see the wit,’ he says, ‘of walking and talking at the same time … Is not this wild rose sweet without a comment? Does not this daisy leap to my heart set in its coat of emerald? Yet if I were to explain to you the circumstance that has so endeared it to me you would only smile…

In my opinion, this continual comparing of notes interferes with the involuntary impression of things upon the mind, and hurts the sentiment. If you only hint what you feel in a kind of dumb show, it is insipid: if you have to explain it, it is making a toil of a pleasure. You cannot read the book of Nature without being perpetually put to the trouble of translating it for the benefit of others. I am for the synthetical method on a journey in preference to the analytical. I am content to lay in a stock of ideas then, and to examine and anatomise them afterwards. I want to see my vague notions float like the down of the thistle before the breeze, and not to have them entangled in the briars and thorns of controversy. For once, I like to have it all my own way; and this is impossible unless you are alone.’

Call of the Wild.

For Thoreau, also, walking is a solitary event. In his 1861 treatise, ‘Walking,’ he sets out how the primal act of mobility connects us with our essential wildness, it is a spiritual act undertaken for its own sake.


‘All good things are wild and free,’ says Thoreau.

‘When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: what would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall? ‘

‘Life consists with wildness… The most alive is the wildest.’

A serf sometimes feels this on a stormy day, walking with her dog along the sea-shore, a wave’s breadth from the surging ocean, feeling its spray on her face. Say, does man’s best friend feel it too, a call of the wild connecting him with his inner wolf?

Your Own Way.

For Stevenson, walking has also to be a solitary activity for the reason that ‘you must have your own pace and neither trot alongside a champion walker, nor mince in time with a girl.’ He disagrees with a comment by Hazlitt concerning exuberant movement…

‘Give me the clear blue sky over my head, and the green turf beneath my feet,’ says Hazlitt, ‘ a winding road before me, and a three hours’ march to dinner– and then to thinking! It is hard if I cannot start some game on these lone heaths. I laugh, I run, I leap, I sing for joy.’

‘Not wholly wise,’ says Stevenson.’ I do not approve of that leaping and running. Both of these hurry the respiration; they both shake up the brain out of its glorious open-air confusion; and they both break the pace. Uneven walking is not so agreeable to the body and it irritates the mind.’

Stevenson observes that you lose that dreaming rhythm when you abruptly change the pace. Serfs concur. I sometimes muse, walking by the river, whistling to the birds and such, that my bi-ped, four-step walking rhythm is keeping in time with my pulse.

And here’s Thoreau with a nice comment on the art of walking, not by mechanically putting one foot in front of the other hell set on a destination, but by mastering the art of sauntering:

‘I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks — who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre, to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander.’

And so pleasure leads to pleasure in an endless chain ….

Arriving at the Inn.

‘If the evening be fine and warm,’ says Stevenson,’ there is nothing better in life than to lounge before the inn door in the sunset, or lean over the parapet of the bridge, to watch the weeds and the quick fishes.’

‘How fine it is to enter some old town, walled and turreted, just at approach of night-fall,’ says Hazlitt,’ ‘or to come to some straggling village, with the lights streaming through the surrounding gloom; and then, after inquiring for the best entertainment that the place affords, to ‘take one’s ease at one’s inn!’

‘It is then, if ever, that you taste Joviality to the full significance of that audacious word.’ Stevenson commenting again. ‘Your muscles are so agreeably slack, you feel so clean and so strong and so idle, that whether you move or sit still, whatever you do is done with pride and a kingly sort of pleasure. You fall in talk with any one, wise or foolish, drunk or sober. And it seems as if a hot walk purged you, more than of anything else, of all narrowness and pride, and left curiosity to play its part freely, as in a child or a man of science. You lay aside all your own hobbies, to watch provincial humours develop themselves before you, now as a laughable farce, and now grave and beautiful like an old tale.’

‘I have certainly spent some enviable hours at inns.’ says Hazlitt. ‘What a delicate speculation it is, after drinking whole goblets of tea and letting the fumes ascend into the brain, to sit considering what we shall have for supper…’ recollecting with amorous precision … ‘It was on the 10th of April,1798, that I sat down to a volume of the New Elise, at the inn of Llangollen, over a bottle of sherry and a cold chicken.’

So let us leave these wanderers to their ease and heart–felt happiness in some comfortable inn and muse further upon wandering …

A Stroll may Change History.

There’s another kind of walking, the thinking walk … where something you’ve been working on, if you’re lucky, comes together, a connected-ness, as you wander.

Here’s a case significant in its consequences that I’ve recorded before. James Watt, an instrument maker out walking in the city of Glascow, one fine afternoon in 1765. For months Watt had been working on Newcomben’s steam engine trying to solve the problem of inefficiency from wasted steam. Walking up Charlotte Street, he passed by the old washing house.

‘I was thinking upon the engine at the time,’ he wrote later, ‘when the idea came into my mind that as steam was an elastic body it would rush into a vacuum, and if a communication were made between the cylinder and an exhausted vessel, it would rush into it and thereby be condensed without cooling the cylinder … I had not walked further than the golf-house when the whole thing was strong in my mind.

Pied-a-terre ter every-where.

There was a time, before the advent of steam engines, or even roads, before the advent of cities or large towns, when most of the world’s human population walked. Right up to the Middle Ages, except for a few kings and queens and dukes, most everybody walked. Much of England at that time was still covered in forest, and there was only one city, London Town, a focus of opportunity to some of England’s rural population. To get to London, or any local town or marketplace, you walked.To sell wares or buy, to visit relatives, to seek your fortune like Dick Whittington, you walked, tramping the network of trails that criss-crossed hill and dale, or like Red Riding Hood, taking a winding path through the woods.

Literature is crammed with walkers, one notable even walking through the under world, another group of travelers journeying to the centre of the earth. There’s J.R.R.Tolkein’s hobbits, Frodo and Samwis, (Gollum‘s excluded, more slithering and crawling than actual ‘walking.’) Young people walked. There’s Charles Dicken’s David Copperfield. Thomas Hardy’s characters are dedicated walkers, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Gabriel Oak, Tess D’Urbervilles, hmm, might have been better if she’d stayed at home. Lots of females in literature go on walks… Jane Austin’s Elizabeth Bennett thinks nothing of a four mile walk, Jane Eliot’s always walking, over hill and dale, along sea fronts, through the streets of Bath. In Nathanial Hawthorn’s ‘Scarlett Letter’ who can forget Hester Prynne’s walk in the forest? So symbolic.

Wired for walking.

‘Man’s instincts were forged in the desert’ says Bruce Chatwin.

‘The real home of man is not his house but the road. Life itself is a travel that has to be done by foot,’ says Chatwin, who tells us in his fascinating study of nomads, ‘The Songlines.’ that his own name means ‘winding path.’

In ‘The Songlines,’ Chatwin describes the Aboriginal creation myth of the invisible thread of song lines that cross the Australian landscape, put down by totemic ancestors singing the world into existence, these Dreamtime tracks becoming ways of communication between distant tribes.

Chatwin converses with an aboriginal ex–Catholic priest who tells him how the songlines were created:

‘Each Ancestor, while singing his way across country, was believed to have left a trail of ‘life-cells’ or ‘spirit-children’ along the line of his footprints … the song was supposed to lie over the ground in an unbroken chain of couplets: a couplet for each pair of the ancestor’s footfalls, each formed from the names he ‘threw out’ while walking.’

A child inherits his or her totemic ancestry and stanza of the songline from where the tribal elders decide is his or her conception site, that place where the already pregnant woman feels the foetus quicken, corresponding to the moment of spirit-conception.


In ‘The Songlines,’ Chatwin also presents a controversial thesis that it is our settled life that fosters aggression, whereas nomads live in harmony with others and their world. He recounts a fascinating meeting with Konrad Lorenz, ethologist and brilliant mimic, where Lorenz, describing the inherent territorial aggressive instincts of animals and humans, gives a performance of a meeting of two conflicting male sticklebacks, both unbeatable in the centre of their own territory, progressively fearful as they stray away from it. And as Lorenz told the story, says Chatwin he became the stickleback, ‘crossed his hands under his chin splaying his fingers to imitate the stickleback spines. He coloured at the gills. He paled. He inflated and deflated, lunged and fled.’

Contrary to Lorenz, regarding instinctive human aggression, Chatwin believes that man in his natural state is not aggressive. He gives a picture of the harmonious life in a nomad tribe, the Nemabis of the Sahara and says that the world, if it is to survive, needs to return to the ascetic, nomad life.

Hmm …Inherently good or inherently evil? Difficult to make that call regarding flawed yet reflective, complex human beings. And back to a golden age? Naychur without that comfortable wayside inn?

Two Songs.



sometimes referred to as The Seven Cardinal Sins – I like that.


Serf musings regarding social engineering attempts to narrow down the complexity of individual human personality for ‘noble’ ends, noble ends often requiring a noble lie. Hat / tip to the Greek philosopher Plato in ‘The Republic,’ a blue-print for utopian engineering and an act of pride in itself.

A Sensitivity Warning: the following will include a plethora of CAP-LETTERING due to the SERIOUSNESS of the subject being discussed, SEVEN DEADLY SINS – Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony ‘n Lust. Herewith a serf haiku over-view:


No History w/out Hubris…

The Study of History and ‘Those SINS.’

History’s supposed to be a proper study of mankind, claimed Italian historian, Giambattista Vico,( 1668-1744) arguing ahead of his time that since man himself has created history and the societies which are its study, man is especially adapted to be an object of human knowledge. This meant that if history was to become a serious study of humans interacting with their world, certain misconceptions concerning its ‘purpose’ and the nature of historical explanation, had to be overcome.

One misconception that had to go was the study of the past as moral instruction, history ‘teaching a lesson’ Much of Middle Ages history was of this kind, events regarded in a providential light, God’s purpose over-ruling human action. Another narrowing of human action requiring critical review was ‘scientism’ or ‘historicism,’ involving explanation in history as the outcome of inexorable laws of destiny. Claiming that history obeyed scientific laws, arch historicists, Georg Hegel and Otto Spengler saw history driven by laws of political or cultural destiny, historicist Karl Marx, viewed humans as puppets constrained by economic laws. As discoverers of laws in history, donning the powerful cloak of science, Hegel and Spengler, however, chose to discard the scientific discipline of testing and eliminating error, any nation presently prevailing just happening to be the destined victor, Karl Marx failed the prediction test, his stages of history theory falsified by events.

A third problem to be overcome concerned bias in historical perspective, what to do to transcend the myopia of present point of view and the opacity of time and space.

Context’s the thing.

Problems of historical perspective in explanations of historical events required a broader approach to the study of the past. For historian John Dunn, the problem could only be overcome by understanding the biographical or social experience a past argument or event was designed to meet. Dunn argued that to abstract an argument or event from the criteria which it was designed to meet was to convert it into a different argument or event. To understand the argument of a past thinker, we need to ‘substitute the closure of the context provided by the biography of the speaker for that provided by the biography of the historian.’ (J Dunn ‘The Identity of the History of Ideas.’ Philosophy 43,1968 p98.)

For Karl Popper, like John Dunn, overcoming the personal bias of the historian requires contextual analysis. Popper argues a critical approach to understanding the ‘logic of the situation’ of protagonists. By locating the decisive elements in an actor’s problem situation, a historian has a good chance of understanding and explaining past events. (‘Objective Knowledge. An Evolutionary Approach.’ Oxford, 1979.Ch 4.)

Accurate situational analysis beyond reading the correspondence of decision makers may require the spreading of a large net involving geographical data and other resource data or identifying impacting events, past or present, at home or abroad.

A critical and provisional study of history, so followed, I’d argue, pursued in context and for its own sake, can reveal us to ourselves in all our variety, a panoply of human motivations, interacting and overlapping …FEAR, AMBITION, OPPORTUNISM, DECEIT, PRIDE and more, a rich and chastening experience.

The Western Literary Canon.

But what about experience gleaned from the fictional characters in literature, from the pages of the great books of the Western Canon?

In an earlier edition of Serf Under _ ground, I put forward a proposal with reference to reading literature, viz, ‘That literature, in mysterious ways, expands our human consciousness and understanding of our human condition,’

Now I know you’re likely to disagree with this in a number of ways. Considering that we’ve all experienced the difficulties of communicating with real people in the here and now, and considering difficulties in historical studies, overcoming present bias to identify human problem situations of the past, what’s to be gained from fiction?

My answer is that behind these fictional characters and plots hides a silent creator, the author, a real person. The canon of literature that avid readers turn to for enjoyment and more, again and again, books that include many points of view and modes of exploring them, are written by authors with rich imagination and perception, who turn the characters in their creations into living human beings involved with particular aspects of human experience.

Harold Bloom, in his book, ‘The Western Canon: The Books and Schools of the Ages.’ (1994.) defends the concept of a body of great literature existing through history to be read for the lustres, a concept which should scarcely need defending, but a concept under attack from Marxist and Foucault inspired anti-canonists.

Bloom examines twenty-six writers that he chooses to write about in The Western Canon, from the five hundred or so canonical writers that he names in the appendix of his book, great literature from different historical eras and countries from Homer and the Greek tragedians to playwrights, poets. novelists and essayists of the twentieth century.

So what is this thing with the writers that Harold Bloom calls the canon? The answer, more often than not, turns out to be strangeness, ‘a mode of originality that either cannot be assimilated, or that so assimilates us that we cease to see it as strange … the cycle of achievement that goes from The Divine Comedy to Endgame, from strangeness to strangeness.’ (H.B. P3)

Strangeness ‘n Originality.

Bloom argues that Shakespeare’s originality and strangeness has become so assimilated by us that we cease to see it as strange. He places Shakespeare at the centre of the Canon because he excels all other Western writers in cognitive acuity and power of invention.

Bloom argues that Shakespeare gives us most of our representations of cognition. He goes further, observing that Shakespeare largely invented what we think of as cognition, that most of what we know about how to represent cognition and personality in language was permanently altered by Shakespeare.(P46.) There isn’t anyone before him who actually gives you a representation of characters speaking out loud whether to themselves or to others, and then brooding out loud on what they have said, and in the course of pondering, undergoing a serious or vital change, becoming a different kind of character.

Where Shakespeare took the hint, says Bloom, – is from Chaucer, Shakespeare’s only precursor in reflective character; the self aware revelations of two characters in ‘The Canterbury Tales,’ the Wife of Bath that gets into Falstaff, and of the Pardoner, that gets into figures like Edmund and Iago. As to how Chaucer comes up with it, says Harold Bloom, shows Chaucer’s own startling originality.


The Canterbury Tales and the Seven Sins.

‘Here is God’s plenty,’ said poet John Drydon, speaking of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. And it is… Though no religious pilgrimage to Canterbury this, instead, for most of the travelers, a pleasure jaunt with tales told along the way, mostly secular tales of love and marriage told in popular mode, chivalry and courtly romance, satire and animal fable.

Chaucer’s tales are a witty analogy to Dante’s grim pilgrimage in ‘The Inferno’ through the nether regions of Hell. Sins there are a-plenty but Chaucer’s large consciousness, like Shakespeare’s, can’t be prescribed by constraints of the times. Though set against a world of Medieval Christian morality, Chaucer’s tales, while including moral and spiritual allegory and sermons, transcend the didactic.

Chaucer is no preacher but instead a comic ironist, who creates in The Canterbury Tales, a structure of preamble and tale told by each individual pilgrim in which they introduce and reveal themselves to us by their own words, a device exploited by later grand ironists, Shakespeare and Jane Austin.

Master of ceremonies on the journey is the ambiguous character, ‘Chaucer,’ – not the creator, ‘Chaucer,’ but another ‘guileless Chaucer,’ one of the company of travelers, and this allows readers, in the absence a guiding voice, to make their own discoveries about each character’s nature and concerns.

The two most individual and self-aware characters in the tales are the Wife of Bath and the Pardoner. In these characters, Bloom observes, Chaucer has anticipated by centuries that inwardness we associate with the Renaissance and the Reformation, a self- consciousness that Shakespeare quickens into self over-hearing and subsequent will to change. ( B. P 105.)

Lots of self awareness in the Wife of Bath. In her prologue, twice as long and more interesting than her tale, she celebrates her extraordinary vitalism and sexual exuberance. Widow of five husbands and would take a sixth, her preamble is a stream of consciousness reverie that almost seems to break lose from the tales. The Wife of Bath gives us a vivid account of her marriages and battle for sovereignty within them and also her dissent from the strictures of the church on multiple marriages, followed by a commentary on men’s moralizing about women’s vices:

‘By God, if women hadde written stories,
As clerkes han written hir oratories,
They wolde han written of men more wickednesse
Than all the mark of Adam may redresse.’

(W/B. Lines 693-696.)

And in a passage that anticipates some of Shakespeare’s characters’ introspective soliloquies, the Wife of Bath reflects on how time has transfigured her and we see her consideriing a deliberate change from her early natural vitalism to a more self-conscious cheerfulness. She can’t be what she was, but she will continue in a way suited to her heroic personality:

‘But – Lord Crist! – whan that it remembreth me
Upon my yowthe, and on my jolitee,
It tikleth me about myn herte roote.
Unto this day it dooth myn herte boote
That I have had my worlde as in my tyme.
But age, allas, that al wol envenyme,
Hath me biraft my beautee and my pith.
Lat go. Farewel! The devel go therwith!
The flour is goon: ther is namoore to telle;
The bren, as I best kan,now moste I selle;
But yet to be right mery will I fonde.’

(W/B lines 469-467.)

In her ‘likerous tale concerning dominance in marriage, there’s no surprise about who wins. There is a surprise, however, in her dissertation on ‘gentilness’ or ‘nobility’ that suggests an unexpected aspect of her nature, perhaps something that she’s unaware of herself…

‘Looke who that is most virtuous always,
Pryvee and apert, and mooste entendeth ay
To dothe gentil dedes that he can;
Taak hym for the grettest gentil man.’

(WB.Tale. Lines 113-116.)

Can’t constrain the Wife of Bath too narrowly to a mere ‘deadly sin of lust.’

The ‘gentil Pardoner’, forerunner of Shakespeare’s great nihilists Edmund and Iago, is a figure who marks the limit of Chaucer’s irony. The Pardoner’s prologue and tale, as Bloom observes, are not comic but lethal.

The most depraved of Chaucer’s characters, as he says of himself, he is’ a ful vicious man,’ he is also the most intelligent and imaginative, delighting in his mastery of persuasive preaching to deceive the gullible:

‘My hand and my tongue go yerns
That it is joy to see my busyness
Of avarice and of such cursedness
Is all my preaching for to make them free
To give their pence, and namely unto me
For my intent is not but for to win,
And nothing for correction of sin.
I reck never when that they be buried
Though that there soules go a black berried.’

(P. Lines 397-406)

The Pardoner’s theme is cupidity motive for his own calumny, trading in indulgences and fake ‘holy’ relics, ‘I preach nothing but coveitise.’ And greed is the subject of his tale. His macabre tale involves an ancient figure like the Wandering Jew, who meets with three young revelers on a drunken quest to accost and kill Death. The ancient man, who seems to be Death’s messenger, directs them to a lonely place where they will meet with Death. The revelers find a heap of gold sovereigns and plans change. Unwilling to share the spoils, they plot against each other and bring about their mutual destruction. ‘Ralix malorum est Cupiditus.’

At the end of his awesome tale, the Pardoner outrageously offers his services of mock redemption to his fellow pilgrims, arousing even the tolerant Chaucer to anger… What is he doing? It’s as though he is provoking disaster. Is he a doom –seeker aware of the emptiness of his boast that only greed motivates him? In the tale he tells he opens up the abyss of eternal damnation for sinners. Perhaps he sees a parallel between himself and the ancient stranger in his tale? Tomorrow and tomorrow…

Tinker, tailor …

Oh those aspirations to narrow down human diversity for Utopian ideals. From Plato’s Utopia to UNESCO’s Millennium Goal vision, social engineering programs, however noble the motive, don’t end well. We see Plato’s Republic- a blue-print to arrest all change, necessarily tailoring the plebs into docility requiring a ‘noble lie’ to bring it about And still these top-down efforts continue. In the name of social equity, one size fits all, Western Civilization, in its education programs is abandoning that basic individualism inherited from thinkers of classical antiquity like Pericles, Socrates , Euripides aor Cicero and from the creative geniuses of the Renaissance like Giotto, Brunelleschi, Leonardo, Michelangelo.

Transformative Learning, at Home and Abroad.

Here in Oz, not so many decades ago, before K-12 Core Curriculum began it’s social agenda transformation of State education, schools generally taught subject content, concepts and skills which, when taught by good teachers, emphasized critical thinking and developing student autonomy. Values education, such as it was, focusing on respect for self and others, reliability and honesty, was promoted separately from curriculum subjects. Now values education permeates every subject area in schools and would seem to be the education’s main goal, transformative education for pre-determined socio-political ends.

A recent social-activist program introduced into schools, the ‘Safe Schools, All of Us ‘ program is exciting some controversy, being a focus on LGBTI, i.e. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender bullying, involving radical program changes. While ‘Safe Schools ‘has as its kernel, a reasonable proposition that no one should be bullied for perceived differences, you would expect a school to deal with any bullying by promoting respect as a civic duty, even stepping up teacher presence in school recess yard duty if necessary, as in the past, But this eight million dollar tax payer funded program, introduced into schools without parental consent, goes way beyond this, involving inappropriate cross gender role play for eleven and twelve year old students, even looking to speech reforms, avoiding hetero-norm language, ‘boy,’, ‘girl’ references, ‘father,’ ‘mother,’ also targeted. Seems children at school are being made the cannon fodder of adult sexual politics.

Transformational Learning in the US.

Robin Eubanks, a US attorney and parent, writer of the blog, ‘Invisble Serf’s Collar,’ has written several posts on education in the United States, including this one, ‘Rewiring Students’ Brains at a Neural Level to Constrain, Guide and Motivate Desired Future Behaviors.’


Here are a few extracts, posted on 8th of June, 2016:

‘During the last two weeks documentable, official confessions of just how much our children’s very synapses and whether the regions used in thinking are rational or tied to emotions have come out on an almost daily basis…

The US BRAIN Initiative (which began in 2013) coordinates actively with Human Brain Project and goes to its programmes in Europe. Turns out part of that initiative included a Bioethics Commission http://bioethics.gov/ where we can locate the BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision report as well as the two Gray Matters reports that leave our government’s desire to interfere with internalized mental processes for political purposes in no doubt. It is also chaired by Penn Pres Amy Gutmann who was probably chosen by President Obama precisely because her 1987 book Democratic Education called on schools to shift away from the ‘well-intentioned misperception’ that schools have an “obligation to impart information.” Instead, Gutmann wanted teachers to develop the moral character of students so that they “feel the force of right reason” to reshape society.’

Citing Professor Damasio, a US partner in the HBP, Robin Eubank says:

‘There’s that ‘feeling’ hype again. I know it is not coincidental because I have a few additional writings we can survey. I have Damasio’s 2010 book Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain where he stated that “emotions are the dutiful executors and servants of the value principle.” A useful target for emphasis for planners hoping to alter the drivers of future behavior. Since Professor Damasio elsewhere mentioned “the need to manage the behaviors of humans,” forcing student thinking to be grounded in emotion would appear to be an excellent place to start. UNESCO agrees too since I located an August 2015 paper stating that the new purpose of ‘curriculum’ in the 21st century is to make sure there is no “contradiction or dissociation between the cognitive and the ethical dimension in learning.”

In order to advance the ‘concept of social justice’ and the new UN “guidelines on the meaning of education based on the ideal of building more just societies,” educational experiences must be created so that each student’s commitment to the ideals of social justice is not “an adherence that is purely rhetorical or cut off from how people actually behave.” Rounding out our support is this paper that I-Y coauthored http://iesteulada.edu.gva.es/portal/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Neuroscience-and-learning.pdf which ended with a diagram that makes it clear it is Emotional Thought, and not High Reason/ Rational Thought, that 21st century education wants to cultivate. Why? Because of its useful role in desired ” moral decision-making.” ‘

Leaving no doubt that schools are being used to force a transformational political agenda at a neural level, Robin Eubanks quottes one of the Grey Matter reports stating that ‘ one desirable goal for ethics education is ‘transformational learning’ which goes beyond cultivating cognitive learning or critical thinking to inculcate ‘habits of mind, attitudes and dispositions. ‘

Robin Eubanks concludes that this is ‘neural change and designed to motivate future behavior from a level unconscious to the neurologically reengineered student.’

The Ultimate Deadly Sin against Humanity.

So no more Socrates’ or Michelangelos’ … And nevermore a Chaucer or a Shakespeare.

Oh you Platonists!

From the confines of my
ivory tower, kinda’
like the Lady of Shallot,
but bolstered by philo-
‘I,’ no, royal ‘We’
gaze down upon
the hoi-polloi
‘n tell you what you are,
and what you need to be.

beth the serf.