V. The Ecology of Violence in the University
(Notes on the Tao of Education)

        1.  By now, we are familiar with the University as an institution involved in violence. We know that its primary function is to deform the young to roles in the economic process of technological imperialism, and to fit them to be the impotent citizenry of a nation generous with death. Within it, CIA agents are trained and defoliants created; its sociologists rationalize the destruction of the black family structure; its administrators act as slum landlords, plant narks among the students and call in the pigs to break heads. Each campus has its distinctive litany, blood on the ivory tower.

        2.  In moving away and on from the institution that was supposed to teach me what to do with my mind, I've had to try to understand the violence of the University. Watching as its catalogue of social atrocities grows, and learning the ways life within it left me violent and violated, I have come to see it not as a factory whose product has an accidentally ugly surface, but as an entire and coherent system of violence. It is a total institution, all of whose parts -- structural, architectural, procedural -- function together to create an ecology of violence.

        3.  Needed: a simple, unified perspective on higher education -- and most of lower, for that matter -- as a destructive system. Most current radical analysis focuses on power, its distribution and uses. But there are violences less dramatic yet more fundamental than those of power-politics. I want to make a lens, melt of metaphysics and some images, through which to view the University as a total institution and understand some of its deeper violence.

        4.  In the last sixty years, from Freud to Women's Liberation, we've begun to realize that our culture's troubles are most deeply involved in that mysterious complex called sex, so it makes sense to start here. Most beginnings deal with the repression and distortion of sexual energies. Through this lens we see a different perspective: the repression and distortion of sexual modalities.

        [2008 note: By 1970, when this was written, issues of gender-identity, gender-conditioning, gender-roles, and gender-equity were surfacing more rapidly than our language was evolving to express them. Later language would rephrase what I meant by "sexual modalities" as "gender roles," at the cost perhaps of losing some rich complexities in this precision. The progress of feminism since has softened the stereotypes I discuss, mainly for women, but has not dulled the point of this example.]

Construction of the Lens

        5.  Primary metaphysic, yes, that's where we have to start. Our culture has a harsh way of handling "opposites." Good and Evil are dedicated to each other's annihilation. Win struggles against Lose, Right against Wrong. "Opposites" fight, the One versus the Other -- to death if they can, naturally. Hobbes argued that One's Other was evil; Western society chose to believe him; almost everywhere men grow, work, or live in groups they are governed by this assumption. Metaphysic strikes deep.

        6.  Take sex, see how the value structure that goes with this metaphysic works out in terms of sexual role. The official cultural version is that man and woman are ”opposites." Man strong, therefore woman weak. Man aggressive, woman passive, Q.E.D. Such oppositions are acted out in social ritual, by opening doors or being asked for a date. Beyond this division, each "opposite" denies its Other. Strong men don't cry. Muscles or logic on women are deformities. Most men numb themselves to the fact that their breasts are sexual organs as fully as women's. Women pluck and shave their body hair. Men with softness in their style rate low in the pecking order. Aggressive women are still unnatural.  A man is defined by his ability to "earn a living," i.e., to exploit his environment for survival; and a woman by her relation to children and a man, in which light she cannot help but exploit them for her identity. We wind up with women incapable equally of anger and of the ability to act in the world; and men who cannot care sufficiently for those or that which their work touches and transforms.

        7.  That metaphysic whose pursuit some call the Tao deals not with "opposites" but with the poles of a twoness-in-one, for which is the ancient symbol. Darkness and light are not static states but conjugate processes, each defining the other. Night and day live wrapped in each other's arms. Heat and cold, motion and rest depend Each on the Other. In the Tao, poles create Each/Other by their difference. What exists between them is not the denying antagonism of "opposites" but the tension of inter-dependence. And the goal of being is not a state of victory, but a process of becoming, built from the harmony of complementary qualities, an integral motion begun beyond the poles and expressing itself through their interplay.

        8.  In terms of sexuality, we are each of us, man or woman, possessed of both poles in the Tao: somewhat able to act in the world, and to receive it; capable of creation and nurture, giving and taking, leading and following, all concave and convex actions and responses. The cunt can equally be an aggressive organ, and the cock as receptive as any transcendental hole. To become one's person in these terms is to accept all of one's complementary parts into some unique harmony. A man learns that his strength comes not from stern tension but from the rhythms of tension and relaxation. A woman learns that her love is deeper and freer if she lets out her anger. Sometimes, body-locked, we hardly know which is the other, who comes, who receives.

        9.  The old names for the poles are Yin and Yang; it is true that all may be seen in their terms. Following ancient practice, I used to call them also Female and Male, believing that, though it made for some confusion until you got used to not thinking of "Woman" and "Man" at the same time, it also made for more powerful metaphor. Thoughtful sisters finally convinced me that to continue describing as "female" all the qualities that have been left to or forced upon women as a class is to perpetuate a sexist perspective. Yet it seems to me that the sexism of its traditional vocabulary and formulation is not innate in the Tao metaphysic, that it can be used as a tool without sexual prejudice. (1)

        Sometimes I think the problem with our culture is that it is Yang-dominated throughout, in its psychology and values. Sometimes I think it's that we're conditioned to perceive and behave in terms of "opposites," to divide all the Yin/Yang polarities along the deadly line of better and worse, good and bad, to carry on that eternal quarrel, frozen in antagonistic roles. I call being split apart this way violence. Sometimes I know we can move toward an integral harmony.

View of the University

        10.  One mode of teaching is triumphant in the University. Minds are to be filled with information. Image of a hand closing on a piece of data, fist plunging into watermelon. Image of a cock ejaculating. Sock it to me. But there is another mode of teaching, rarely practiced, which proceeds by creating an environment, a resource-full context within which growth may proceed inspired by its own direction. Image of a womb, life inside, unfolding.

        11.  The public rituals of the academic process – pubIication, the seminar -- are in terms of performance and debate, ritualized aggressive behavior.

        12.  Diagnosis of the University: excess of the Yang. In this imbalance the mind is trained as a knife only: we learn to analyze and dissect, to fragment and divide, to distinguish cases with rational logic. But there are other skills of the mind, the ones that bring things together rather than take them apart. Call these synthetic, creative, Yin . . . our language is fuzzy and poor in their names, just as we have no organized or useful ways of teaching them. We pretend that "creativity" is mysterious and try to teach the multiplication tables well. Yet creativity has its laws, even as the tables do.

        13.  When the mind is trained as a knife, its product, knowledge, comes out hamburger, bits and pieces. Certification into the intellectual elite is accomplished by the thesis, a scrap of meat on the altar of Fragmentary Knowledge.

        14.  I will say this only once: nothing is wrong with Division itself. But imbalance is disease. What we need now is the knowledge that unites these fragments, the Yin action that frees us from Yang paralysis.

        15. The Yang mode of teaching depends on the conception of knowledge as a thing of fragments, detachable both from other fragments and from the person who can use it -- like automobile parts, which can be put together one by one to form a vehicle that can be considered independent of the forge that produced each part and the mind that will guide the whole. Such stuff is information. Information-centered education proceeds through the classroom in which "knowledge" is transmitted independent of personal relationship in the production line of class and assignment: the rigid industrial process whose product is specialists. (2)

        The very roles that monopolize our model of education are created by defining people in relation to this Yang conception of information: the expert produces it, the teacher markets it, the student consumes it. (But if knowledge exists in persons, then the way you get from here to there is not by isolating and "transmitting" it. Rather, by some basically dissimilar process, like arranging conditions to establish a resonance; and new roles, like that of (s)he who tends the environment of its growth.)

        16.  The crumbs from the knife of the mind are organized by the principle of Division. We are taught that Knowledge is split up into Disciplines, which unfold their partial structures of understanding in isolate, parallel branches, insulated from contact by special languages.

        17.  The social image of this conception of Knowledge is the University's organization into Departments. The divided map of information is reflected in their internal and external structures and relationships of power. The smoke's topography is a map of the furnaces in the industries of power -- for information is a product of power, a tool to engineer detergents and departmental status. In this way are organized those who, having shaped their minds to knives, come to see themselves mirrored in their blades as algebraic topologists or whatever -- defining themselves by the knowledge they create, less by its name than by its fragmentary forms. (The specialist reflex runs deep. When it comes to knowledge of the interdependence and wholeness of systems, which we are currently calling "ecology," the first move is to create a new and separate Program or Department to administer this new Discipline. But how can the Department of X justify housing or training a generalist?)

        18.  Departments form closed, parallel societies. Typically, their functional and social structures are bureaucratic and hierarchical, organized in terms of the principles of distinction: associate and assistant, professional and menial. Minor privilege and reward tell class and caste apart. Overall there is little significant deviation from a common norm in behavior, dress, classroom or publication style, modes and standards of thought . . . the sameness that marks an unfree system. This linear social structure of higher/lower and rigidly normed behavior seems always to appear where people concentrate upon what divides them and not also upon what brings them together.

        19.  At the foot of the Departmental power-pyramid is the individual professor, in turn secure and dominant in the private territory of his classroom or his specialized bit of research. (Image of baronies, image of the stag locking horns with young contenders in the spring.) The faculty are split apart and isolated by the mode of their production, whether of knowledge or of trained youth. Who drops in on a neighbor's classroom or shares rat psychology with the Renaissance scholar?

        20.  The space of each classroom is like the other. Rows of identical concrete cubicles, color them pastel or redo them in aluminum and glass, it's all the same. Within each are seats bolted to the floor in identical distance -- all facing front, so that no one's eyes can meet except with the teacher's, the best way to keep a group of people split apart. Nowadays, the chairs are no longer bolted in rows. The students themselves rearrange them that way, sit equidistant and facing front to Authority. When there are no chairs, say rugs and cushions, people still act out the original architecture of separation. having embedded it in their reflexes, and tend to stay as equally far from each other as the space allows.

        2I.  The principle of academic architecture is Division: it functions to prevent mutual intimacy. Cafeterias are designed to be crowded, for efficiency's sake: their bare walls reflect chattering noise back into the rituals of food: to be heard at dinner you have to speak loudly, which sends your body through many of the physiological changes of anger. Dorm rooms, study cubicles, offices are constructed like classrooms, housing identical units in isolation. Where two share any of these square cells, there is still no coming together, for people cramped together in inadequate space build walls against each other from within.

        22.  You can tell from the bathrooms that dorms are designed to split men and women apart. Such a living context helps make them see each other primarily in sexual terms, encounter each other as fractions and not as integral persons. In the academic and administrative buildings, johns are set aside for staff, and eating-places also, keeping the social classes apart at both ends of alimental ritual. (Even in the boys' bathrooms of primary rural education, the communal trough is now being replaced by rows of individual urinals, whose porcelain contours beg you to huddle into them and shield your privates.)

        23.  It's no accident that a dorm lounge looks like a dentist's waiting room, or that classrooms are designed by the same people who design prisons. A certain class of corporate architectural firms is responsible indifferently for universities, prisons, hospitals, army barracks, and public housing. For such institutions, which function to process people in accordance with the economic scheme, the principles of design are uniform: standardization and alienation, efficiency. All surfaces are hard, paint is tough and non-chip. Academic spaces are designed to turn over their occupants six times daily or once a semester and leave no trace; hospital rooms, to be steamed out after each occupant. Concrete is primary: the institution is its buildings with their lichen of bureaucracy; it is not the people it processes. (Likewise, human knowledge is thought of as its husk of information, outlasting the inhabitant, expanding in stories around a central core, like some farsighted building program.)

        24.  Today students are fitted to the shape of the system of information, with its centralized Authorities. In that distant culture whose cities, economy, industries, and political power are decentralized, where the learning of Change is a living Way, there would be no mountains of fact and concrete called Universities. Knowledge would grow in and around the shape of each person. Education would enable each separately and then together to create what knowledge they need when, appropriately, and always anew; would not be distinguished from the process of life, institutionally or otherwise.

        25.  Architecture tells us who we are, what about us matters, shapes our dreams, In rooms where you cannot write your name on the walls, the message is to be passive: the environment refuses interaction and denies your presence. The classroom is designed to alienate. Why not? The function of higher education is social conditioning at least as much as the transmission of knowledge. For its continuance, the economic order needs persons trained in certain forms of social response and incapable of others. School trains students to a certain style of authority inside and between their selves. Social order, architecture, information, all shape this climate, telling people, "Adapt to me."

        26.  Into the standard classroom descends the standard teacher, inescapably sovereign, to rehearse students in the intellectual and social ideologies of his Department/Discipline. He orchestrates the process that splits them apart. Here, in this arena dedicated to thought as opposed to action, their training to divorce intellect from emotion is carried out to its highest refinement. (What wonder they find it hard to feel and deal with the anguish built in to their later work?) The schedules of class, curriculum, and degree make them learn to fragment their attention and energy: to divide their selves as well as their work into parts, to be able to standardize production; and to defer both response and gratification, which involves numbing themselves to the sensations of their needs and the possibilities of action.

        27.  The jock and the scholar stand at opposite ends of the traditional campus social spectrum, to testify that higher education further divorces the workings of body from the workings of mind. Hence the environments of classroom and study-room are designed for passive, motionless bodies; and the processes that go on within them are designed to train people to experience ideas and emotions without physical response.

        Yet what learns is a whole being; in each of us knowledge is made manifest physically, from the level of molecular biology and RNA-chain coding on up. Increasingly, I become convinced that physical therapies, constant rituals of body use, and disciplined work on the interface of body and mind (e.g., hatha-yoga. bio-energetics) are essential curriculum for the integration of knowledge. I also think that a revolution in our cultural style of conceptual learning is promised by our current early experiments with learning forms in which people create and physically act out theater that embodies the conceptual problems they are investigating. To deal with the body as integral with the mind in the art of learning will require a basic rethinking and reconstruction of our educational environments and processes.

        (The divorcement of mind from body and the hostile elevation of mind above body characterize not only the University but the dominant culture. (3) We may understand this as a Yang tyranny, brought about largely through the offices of men who have been trained to deny the reality of inner/subjective experience, the claims of energy rooted in the Yin of flesh-earth, and who enact their private limitations into public policy and values.)

        28.  The classroom process is combative. Within it the young are conditioned to claw each other in competition for an A, a smile from teacher, a fellowship, certification, future power. The process of power in the classroom is normally the primitive politics of aggressive ego-struggle for scarce resources (like public space and last sentence's rewards). Outside in our political meetings we reveal the uses of the mind to which we've been conditioned. When the velvet gloves of the academic seminar are stripped off and the leisurely clouds of paper interchange blown away, what's left looks like a bunch of guys milling about in the public arena, battering away at each other with huge cocks to see whose is longest and strongest.

        29.  The classroom process of competition drives people away from each other and back into themselves. The basic gut-state of most students in class is fearful. A low-trust, high-risk environment; small wonder most people behave timidly in it. But what else can we expect from learning dominated by a framework of punishment/reward, success/failure, in which every motion is subject to judgment?

        30.  When all is divided in the culture of hierarchy, of Good over Evil, half gets shoved under: anger, black people, the body, whatever's dark and bad for you. Men fight their softness and women their strength. We learn to weaken our powers by exalting those praised and starving the others. Split into parts, you are freaky in some and ashamed of being freaky (or do you still remember?) For what is wrong and the pain and confusion in your head, you have learned to blame yourself and your private condition. Weakened, divided, we go through our paces learning and living to be integrated into the system of production and consumption.

        31.  Another name for this game is Capitalism. This is the system that, according to Marx, divorces you from the control of your production; splits you from the sense and production of your self, in the condition called alienation; and divides you from your brothers and sisters and whoever is Other, in the process of keeping you powerless. (Marx built off Hegel, whose metaphysic was homomorphic to the Tao.) Capitalism is a total system, each of its key institutions reflects its characteristics -- nothing special about education, a similar ecology of Division holds almost everywhere. In order to keep functioning in its modes of production, repression, and exploitation, such a system must systematically cripple its people and leave them unable to come together, with their selves or each other. All its institutions will work to this end.

        32.  Imperialism is the broader framework of our culture.

        All depend on the splitting of the One from the Other. Where interdependence is honored, they are not. We have followed a one-sided way for so many faith-full centuries, have built our forms around it. Now the sky turns black with its signature. What institutions will school us equally in the ways of yielding -- the yielding up of power and control, and of the Self to the Other, which are necessary to Coming Together -- and teach us that yielding is not defeat? How will we recover the halves of ourselves of which we have been systematically stripped: and learn beyond this the unity of our parts in polar interplay?

Coda on Coming Together in Learning

        33.  It is irresponsible only to take apart. The perspective on the University (and its parent culture) I have tried to sketch here carries an implicit prescription for action: since by design all is Split Apart, begin by Bringing Together. That process has already begun among us: surely most of the good energy now new in your life has been generated by the coming-together of what was divided.   [2008 note: I was addressing the original audience for this work.] So I want to close with some dry notes about the design of coming-together in small groups.

        34.  The small-group context is crucial for all learning, academic or not. It appears in various forms. In the University, it is called a "class" and is defined in this way:  People joined by random schedule and program rather than common purpose, with minimal mutual commitment, come together for brief isolated meetings, scattered in a longer arbitrary time, to encounter each other in one or few of their many dimensions, mainly mind, in an authority-centered society and fixed roles, dominated by a punishment/reward framework of motivation, to learn of a specialized splinter of knowledge, made and known in advance, and beyond this be trained in certain skills of social conditioning and data processing.

        How ghastly.

        Begin by inverting that definition. People joined by common interest and mutual design choose to commit themselves to come together extensively and intensively over an open-ended period of time, which will shape its own form and limits. They meet each other on as many of their human levels as they can, in a democratic peer society which generates its own norms and internal motivations, to learn and to create the general and particular life-knowledge now needed.

        In doing this, they begin to exhibit a social form new to our culture. The form goes by awkward names now, when people care to name it: "intentional learning community," "work-family," whatever. Examples are multiplying. (Communes are often of this sort, with differing degrees of consciousness and craft.) Is it too early to guess that this form just now being explored will someday replace the "class" as the basic small-group context of learning for the post-adolescent young? And will the next revolution in higher education parallel the last, in which a new living/learning group, the Fraternity, evolved to generate a new curriculum. the Liberal Arts?

        35.  How do people learn in groups? In the University, formal learning usually goes on in a sequential process of the form

        AAA … AN, AAA … AN, … ,

where the typical module A looks like this:

        A = (a,b) = (listen to a lecture, study and think alone),

or at best:

        A = (a,b,c) = (discuss in seminar, study and think alone, discuss privately and informally);

and N is some ritual of judgment, like a test or a paper. (That is, you go to class. come home; go to class, come home; ... go to class, come home; and take a test -- week after week after year.) Such a sequence does involve some alternation of modes-- private/ group, listening/dealing-with -- but the focus of each of its segments is on only cognitive interaction and content.

        A group can learn together in better ways. One simple richer process we've worked with comes by taking the form above, but making the typical module A look like this:

        A = (a,b,c,d) = (design a new experience, go through it alone or together, deal with it cognitively in group and informally, think and study alone).

In this, it is easy to see a model for a competent political or social organizing process, where N is a mobilization of social energy in some form. On a smaller scale, an intentional learning group goes off for a weekend to design a learning game -- say, about social process -- play it and then deal with it; design, play, and deal with another; ... , and

                 N = (evaluate and plan for the next work together).

What matters here is that such a process is designed to integrate experience and cognition in an organic way, each giving rise to the other, within each module A. In the University model, private experience can occasionally be "made relevant” to some module; but there is no deliberate place in the process for experience related to cognitive content, nor provision for allowing each to generate the other.

        36.  Begin to integrate experience and thought by learning in forms that alternate them deliberately. This principle goes further: the way to begin to integrate divided areas of Knowledge is to put them into intimate contact within some form. For example: we have done extended workshops in sexuality and politics, using the form AA'NAA'NAA'N … Here each module of work A is focused on sexuality; and each A' is focused on political behavior. Both A and A' are of the form

(a,b,c) = (design and play a learning game, think in group and then informally about it)


N = (evaluation and planning).

        As the cycle ANN repeats, the initially "separate" subjects come to be known as interpenetrate. Through such group methods an integral consciousness, a knowledge grounded in both domains -- personal/public, thought/experience -- begins to grow and leads to larger action. I mean, we've tried it, and it does.

        [2008 note: The skeletal thoughts of sections 35-36 are greatly expanded in my subsequent book, Learning-Games, now online at  www.mrossman.org.]

        37.  I first learned about hybrid forms of learning by watching an SDS Agit/Prop Theater rehearse in 1967. It was then the only political group in Berkeley that stayed together well, or whose members enjoyed coming to meetings. They spent half their time horsing around; half of the rest in discussing ideology and half in struggling to translate it into dramatic images with popular impact. I saw that they had to come collectively and individually to a different, deeper grasp on their political thought in order to be able to translate it into a different medium than was necessary in a straight political rap group. Their theater was reciprocally enriched and grounded. Power is generated on the interface where different media come into intimate contact. Abolish monopoly forms.

        38.  Now that educators are discovering that affect has something to do with learning, they have let emotion back on the campus, to go off and play with itself in the ghetto of Encounter and Sensitivity, still split off. But any significant learning involves personal change, with all its emotions and consequences. The University model of formal group learning is not concerned with these: the individual is left to deal with them where else in his life he can. But a healthy learning group recognizes its collective responsibility to help each person deal with the integral whole and consequence of each act of learning, not only its public beginning. (In our better groups now, there are informal norms and formal processes which function to this end. )

        39.  Lastly, about process, and the Yin skill of tending it.

        Formal academic learning deals with content almost exclusively. Whether by the hour or by the semester, the conversation focuses on its cognitive substance rather than on its process. But conversation is a container, a flexible form within which something grows, an environment -- not of walls. but of processes. If these are healthy, growth is healthy; if not, not. An obsession with content and little useful custom or language to deal with process goes along with our culture's Yang mode of teaching, data-bit-oriented. Men in particular are Yang-trained to deny the reality of subjective experience and to objectify outer reality. Their personal blindness is reflected in the content/process imbalance of male-dominated groups. Even before Women's Liberation, work groups of women tended to be significantly more attentive to process. though not enough to escape the general Yang clench of our culture.

        Consciousness of the environment, whether material or of process, and tending its health are in the Yin mode. A healthy process of learning involves an alternation between the modes: dealing with content or other goal-directed activity until it becomes necessary to deal with the process of work; shifting levels and working with process, e.g., by opening up accumulated group anger or changing the work's leadership patterns; shifting back to the content-oriented mode. I have written above about process-tending, and the number of people sharing a vocabulary and tradition of how-to-do-it is increasing rapidly. It furnishes the strongest example I know of how the Yin mode can be recognized and combined in balance with the Yang, toward an integral process of learning.

        40.  Beyond what I’ve said already, I believe the health or harmony of learning, group and individual, can be understood and regulated in the Tao by right balance and interplay between the polar terms: experience/reflection, creation/integration, action/ rest, unique/mutual, and all the rest, including the Word/the Imagination.



        (1)  I return to this delicate question in a "commentary" in the following chapter. In reading what follows here, I find it takes a constant exercise of consciousness not to lapse into thinking of the Yang qualities as inherently male. I’ve made this separation even more difficult by using certain biological metaphors that a more disciplined political mind would edit out. I include them in lazy humility, to indicate how partial the reconstruction of my own consciousness is, and also to remind us that the question of the biological grounding of sexism is still not well understood.

        (2)  Since knowledge is a core industry, the forms, roles, and processes of educational institutions dovetail with the culture's dominant industrial process and follow its model. Thus the knowledge specialist is designed to be produced in a form as standardized as an auto part, an anonymous replacement to fit easily into some large machine. Thus high capital investments in certain areas and means of knowledge-production are allowed to dictate user custom and inhibit change; and the social organizations built about these investments shape the uses of power for their own aggrandizement and perpetuation. And thus the authority-modes of the knowledge system follow the linear, hierarchical control-model.

        (The identification of education as the largest industry of the modern corporate capitalist state yields an illumination of powerful metaphors to interpret the reality we live through. For thinking about education in Amerika. one should be well-informed in these metaphors. They are dense in the literature of the New Left -- e.g .. Carl Davidson's “The Multiversity: Crucible of the New Working Class” published by SDS. I'd go into this more here, but I'm focusing on a cluster of metaphors that have been less well written about.)

        (3)  See Eldridge Cleaver's clever essay on the sex-linked polarities of white and black culture, "The Primeval Mitosis," in Soul on Ice  (Dell, 1970). which helped lead me to these notes and extends them in turn.


Return to: Top   |   Next   |  OLSC Contents   |   Home