Reading: “Not for Profit,” Part Two

*You ought to read “Reading: ‘Not for Profit,’ Part One” first.

Not for Profit‘s second chapter starts off with three quoted passages from the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, the Preamble to the Constitution of India and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, issued in 1787, 1949 and 1948, respectively. It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the general direction of a chapter titled “Education for Profit, Education for Democracy,” in a book titled Not for Profit, that begins with these three passages describing commonly referenced tenets of basic human dignity. This chapter is devoted to contrasting the “old model” whereby “the goal of a nation […] should be economic growth” (14) with a “human development paradigm” (16) that has “more egalitarian strategies” (15). The former idea would assert that a growing and prospering economy benefits the nation, and what benefits the nation benefits its people; the latter notion asserts that general economic prosperity that can be gauged with statistics like GDP does not address peripheral problems like economic inequality, rural poverty, disaffected and disfranchised groups, and other issues of equitable distribution of total resources. Nussbaum writes that general economic prosperity that is described in blanket figures may not tell the whole truth about who is prospering and who is not. One way to accomplish having both a wealthy elite and a façade of seeming national prosperity is to ensure that most of the population is kept in a position to support that wealth with their compliance.

So what does this have to do with education? Well, elite populations don’t come from nowhere. Members of an elite – whether in a classic oligarchy or a newer technocracy – must have the know-how to maintain a highly controlled status quo, and members of the under-class must have the psychological willingness and perceived rationale to remain passive and compliant. Nussbaum addresses fact too, in a keen and direct manner:

But educators for economic growth will do more than ignore the arts. They will fear them. For a cultivated and developed sympathy is a particularly dangerous enemy of obtuseness, and moral obtusenss is necessary to carry out programs of economic development that ignore inequality. (23)

Under-educating on purpose serves a very immediate need of highly centralized, hierarchical business interests who thrive on having human worker-bees that only do what they are told to do, value what they are told value, and say what they are told to say–- think about the last time you spoke with a telemarketer. Conversely, a “Human Development paradigm” (24) works to build not a drone-like workforce, but an intelligent mass of thinking people who are capable of and intent on living fruitful lives.

Chapter 3, “Educating Citizens: The Moral (and Anti-Moral) Emotions,” then ties strongly into this anti-automaton ideal and extends into notions of tolerance, equality, and “the other.” Nussbaum writes, “Like the other animals, human beings typically feel compassion toward those they know, and not toward those they don’t know” (37). Sometimes this “other” exists outside our own cultures (foreigners or immigrants) and sometimes they are inside our own cultures (Americans of differing racial backgrounds or gays and lesbians). However, education can combat the xenophobic and paranoid notions, when the process demystifies “the other” into a real human being whose habits may be different but are not dangerous.

In this chapter, Nussbaum ties these concepts to the notion of “disgust,” the idea that what we first experience as small children who recognize our own imperfections – most notably our filth and bodily waste – can later be attributed as stereotyped traits of “the other.” The deduction assertion is: if they are dirty, then we must not be. Being a life-long Southerner, I attribute her assertion most notably to the racism of the South, which ostracized and dehumanized African-Americans for centuries as stupid, dishonest, lazy, dirty, etc. in order to direct attention away from the fact that white Christians were committing grievous sins within and throughout the slavery and Jim Crow systems for their own economic benefit; if black people were less than human, what was being done to them was okay. Another fact to the noted is that middle- and lower-class whites supported the slavery system with their . . . you guessed it: compliance.

Returning to Not for Profit, Nussbaum also writes about the ease with which individuals are enable to behave hatefully when the larger cultural group is behaving as such. However, when even one person stands up and objects, some others who have long recognized the wrongness of the actions will also stand up. Education, thus, can act as that one force standing up against any group mentality of intolerance, prejudice, and hateful stereotypes by insisting upon critical thinking and cultural understanding.

I have found that education may be the only cultural institution or force that can save – I use the term loosely – children who are raised in households where racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny are mainstays. Mainstream American culture is getting progressively more open and more diverse, while also becoming less tolerant of bigotry, chauvinism and other forms of intolerance. Yet some children are still being raised with ideals that could get them in big trouble when they express those ideals in mainstream culture, especially in any situation where discrimination is a legal issue. Educational experiences that undermine the falsehood of  hateful stereotypes do help many people to live without the myths that breed hate.

Chapter 4, “Socratic Pedagogy: The Importance of Argument,” continues this forward march toward by defending the importance of instilling in people to question even their most basic assumptions, the rationale being: if the premise is true and/or valid then it will stand up to scrutiny. Nussbaum writes, “Socratic critical inquiry, by contrast [‘to authority and peer pressure’], is utterly unauthoritarian” (50). Social and political authority structures are held in place by cultural norms that perpetuate them.  While societies do need norms in order operate, “[a]nother problem with people who fail to examine themselves is that they often prove all to easily influenced” (50). Herein lies the difficulty in trying to maintain both a democratic government and an autocratic economy.

Using Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1762 novel Emile as a touchstone for her points, and citing an array of notable educators like Bronson Alcott, Horace Mann and John Dewey, Nussbaum carries the reader through some historical support for her argument. For instance, she connects Dewey’s idea “to make a classroom a real world space continuous with the world outside— a place where real problems are debated, real practical skills evoked” (66). The lessons learned in formal education have to be connected to real life in order for them to mean anything, for them to be useful, for them to be valued. And what is more valuable than the ability to problem-solve? By providing these examples and extolling the virtues of Socratic methods, Nussbaum writes toward the end of the chapter: “Our historical digression has shown us a living tradition that Socratic values to produce a certain type of citizen: active, critical, curious, capable of resisting authority and peer pressure” (72).

Not too terribly long ago a John Archibald of the Birmingham News published a piece that I read on al.com, “Why Alabama really needed that win,” and it connects directly to Nussbaum’s point about questioning things. In it, Archibald describes how the football team of the University of Alabama may be number one in the nation for the second time in three years, with Alabama’s other major university Auburn grabbing the national title in the year between, but Alabama has so many more issues that Alabamians should care about more than football, like being crime-ridden and unhealthy and having a pitiful education system. Having lived here my whole life, I love college football as much as anyone in the state, but way too few of us, truthfully almost none of us, question our desperately severe social problems the way that we question the losses of our favorite team. If we in Alabama put that football-fan umph! into questioning the root causes of our actual problems, we might be number-one in the nation in more than football.

So far, Not for Profit has had some surprises, but not many. The present of the book’s arguments and the support for those arguments are thorough, clear and easy to understand. My final words on Not for Profit, chapters 5, 6 and 7, are coming a week from today, in “Reading: ‘Not for Profit,’ Part Three.”

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