Technology and Education

        42.  All real vision about technology begins in two facts: I) Today, for the first time – as extensively documented by the players of Buckminster Fuller's World Game -- we have the capacity to feed, house, etc., all mankind, adequately.   2) And we aren't doing it.

        Such statements have become trite, irritating, and wearisome to us, perhaps because we're the first people to live within so fully developed a social contradiction about our material circumstances. To the extent that it does not greatly oppress our minds and spirits at the dinner table, we are numbed in the deep reaches.

        Until this contradiction is resolved, we cannot be said to have begun to realize the possibilities of social reconstruction opened by our technology. The direction of reconstruction is inherent in its necessary process: a moving toward full, self-determined empowerment, down to the individual level and within, in all of the basic ways necessary to human survival and flowering.

        This is also the potential of our present technology. Those who weary early of the possibilities of the Machine should remember that it has not yet been put to the service of making all people materially free, and freeing their imaginations for its furthering uses.

        43.  So long as there is hunger and the terror of material oppression, the basic style of our culture will be authoritarian. At this point of tension facing our revealed potentials, the cycles of exploitation that define our lives and cripple our energies depend upon the imprisonment of technology. For their survival, our systems of centralized power must limit and control technology in such a way that its potential benefits and empowerment are not realized by most people.

        For this to be possible, people must be kept from not only the means but the knowledge necessary to use technology. From this imperative of exploitation spring strong forces that shape and maintain the fragmentary structure of our systems of knowledge and the processes of our specialist education, as well as the unwieldy forms of our industrial machineries. All these function to isolate people from technological power. The demystification of technology, the propagation of knowledge and means for its use at the popular level, are essential strategies of struggle against repressive centralized power. and are key to the democratization of technological society.

        44.  How degrading it is, and how bewildering, to deal with technology in a class society. The refrigerator dies, I kick it, it stays dead. Hey, the refrigerator's dead! Call the refrigerator man. The man comes; his smile is like an ice tray. I have to summon up all my casualness to ask him how a … relay? … works, and he's not in a mood to chat. We don't learn anything from each other; our transaction is as bloodless as the brick dinner steak.

        They divided our functions early, for the sake of the productive economy in its most convenient organization for profit. My sisters learned to invisibly eat their envy at the way my brother and I felt free to experiment with our hands. In high school they offered welding, but I never thought of taking it -- nor did anyone I knew who was being prepped for the employment of the mind. Higher education refined the divisions further. I did my undergraduate work in theoretical physics. Our specialized texts helped us encourage each other to feel ourselves a class distinct from those physics majors interested in the experimental face of the art. So I enjoyed my ignorance of their practical skills of electronics and observation; and they refused to learn the funkier language and notation of the electrical engineers. to whom they in turn felt superior.

        45.  Now, each time I successfully mess with the carburetor. diagnose the dog, or rig a transistor device to rip off long-distance phone calls, I get a surge of the peculiar freeing energy that comes from transcending the limits, and hence the condition, of my social class. The state is more than one of simple technical empowerment: it has a sharply existential edge.

        In our organization around the uses of systematic knowledge, from physics to psychology each technology is divided into its aspects, and each aspect is assigned to a class of people whose identity it defines and shapes -- the essence of megamachine. The profile of one's relations with the major technologies, productive and other, determines one's caste uniquely. To practice an out-caste technological skill opens one to all the qualities common to the caste (s) "owning" that skill. (A gross example of the process: you can't get on a motorcycle without experiencing a flood of images from films and advertisements.) In a culture in which people know themselves by what they can do, the inward effect is of an opening of the identity. What you know about your capacities and potential becomes unknown and broader. You enter the elivening state of the Nameless.

        Now Karen is helping my younger sister learn to drive. She who was always so fearful of machines, now so ripe in her changes for road-freedom, to move under her own power to visit her distant friends and follow her desire on the beaches.

        46.  Essential to the repression of change is our culture's great mystification about technologies. In our mythology, civilization and its technologies -- physical and political -- are so complex that no one can understand many of the means that determine his life-conditions or share their practice or control. Each is made mysterious, its power kept from common distribution. Nor is the mystification innocent: it functions in the service of social control. With the physical as with the social technologies, to be ignorant is to be manipulatable, and to be unempowered is to be subject to control by outside and greedy forces. Because I don't know how to repair my car and "haven't the time" or capital for the right tools, the auto companies buy laws and the government to guard the waste of production and the earth in deliberate obsolescence.

        47.  It is essential to understand that our relationships with technology need not be as fragmentary as our culture has determined them. Anyone can learn to rebuild a car [2008 note: circa 1970!]. The principles of the light-bulb, the laser, and the sun are simple and deep, and open to view: God is not secretive. How can I put it, with the resonance of vision in these stiff words? I believe it's possible for each person to comprehend all the essential technologies of our present lives; and, given the means and need, be able to muster any in its use. And I think that any large vision of humanity's reintegration through social reconstruction must include this vision of pan-technological literacy and competence, and in fact depends on it.

        48.  What hinges on this face of technology is our image of man. The mystification that the ways of the Machine are arcane and difficult and few are suited to them stands against the image of man as a creature whose impulse is toward the embracing of All, whose capacities are larger than his tools, and whose future is open. Against the backdrop of our age, this image is not a "rational" one. It requires an act of faith to project. For by the technological mystification, as by the political, your mind is left unable to grasp what has been done to it and how your imagination has been castrated.

        Like the political, the technological mystification begins to break only through new experience and changed behavior. The walls are thin now, and it's possible for many individuals to transcend significant limits of their technological condition. But our culture's mystification will not be broken until each citizen's education is reformed, in content and process, to enable him to participate fully in our technologies, and their material forms are reshaped to suit this.

        Such reformation is deeply political. A superficial example: the mystique about black people's lower technical capabilities will not break until the schools and the economy open to integrate them into the technical professions. (Not that black ABM technicians are to be desired per se . . .)

        49.  At the heart of any new technological politics must lie intimate vision. From my experience, I believe it is possible to raise a child into a new relation with technology, comprehensive, integrated, and harmonious, and that the technology we call technological education can be radically re-created for this. As yet, my vision of this is too raw and new to sort out its parameters. I know only that such accomplishment must be collective. But its centering icon is for me the image of our son lying on the floor, discovering geometry with his fist and watching me build above him the butterfly of new geodesic power, while I sing him mantras about Plato and the Perfect Forms.

        50.  When I was seven, my mother convinced my father to move out from the urban core toward the edge of the country. I grew up in woodsy Fairfax, medium-north of San Francisco. At night the deer wandered down from the oaks to eat our tomatoes, so we pickled them green. During school-time recess, in the freedom bought by my father's riding the growing freeways to work, I went out looking for lizards.

        Dad was a Jewish Communist quick with his hands and his rational mind, who taught me to turn over rocks to see what was hidden beneath them. He was also a city-boy intellectual who knew from nothing about houses. We bought an absolute leaky lemon of obsolete sub-code-standard construction. And over a decade of work and family hassle re-built it from top to bottom. As I went to bed, I saw him hunched over the midnight dining table, studying the government pamphlet on how to do electric wiring. And over slow afternoon years helping him, I learned how to shingle and sheetrock, plumb and stud, and care for the tools that gave us some power to change things.

        Then I went off to college, to be groomed for the high priesthoods of our age: after nuclear physics I did four years' graduate work in the best mathematics department. In the end, all that saved me was the coincidence of historical contradiction breaking open, and the impulses of my upbringing in a humane Marxism.

        51.  Looking back, it is obvious yet astounding how my experience with housing shaped my young life, defined the broader House into whose shapes I grew during the crucial years from seven to sixteen.

        What was imprinted in me was less fragmentary than the practical opening of many skills, and deeper than a sense of the necessities of craft. I learned in action that I am as Man is, a tool-using animal, and that the ways of technology are open to learning and use: that I am capable, and thus basically empowered. And the process of my learning was precisely this: I watched and questioned and imitated a person who was himself good at learning, and who was learning an ordered set of things in a new context and in response to necessity. It was essential for the depth and way I was affected that he was not a specialist of skilled routine, but an amateur learning newly and rawly, in trial and failure.

        The experience also developed my senses of structure, form, and process, more deeply and organically than the schools ever dared attempt. For the re-building of a house engages productive energies in grand and minor cycles of destruction, beginning, ordering, and completion, around elemental needs of survival and grace. A grown man now, in writing this I recognize how, like anyone, I have come to conceive the task of social reconstruction, the Re-building of our House, in terms of the child-metaphors of my most intimate learning, of leading the copper river up from the foundations to flower into light.

        I was fortunate to have shared a relatively-complete experience of transformation in relation to housing. I wonder how the experience of growing up in a succession of anonymous tract homes produced by unseen hands, or in the dying cities, empty-handed, shapes people's root conceptions of social reconstruction and its possibilities.

        52.  My experience with housing wasn't all harmonious: we carried on our culture's tortured heritage. The women did not share in building save in the customary indirect ways; so my mother hassled with the continual mess of construction and my sisters grew with their hands' powers Mandarin-bound. My parents, for all their politics and warmth, acted out the icon of conflictful division programmed into our culture: man as provider and doer, whose peace is the action of work; woman as manager of the home unit and environment, whose peace is work's termination and whose standards are shaped -- even more than his, perhaps because of her relative technological impotence -- by the consumer economy of over-use. Thus even within our family developed the bad politics of a scene in which users are at the mercy of technical specialists, and in which the priorities of construction aren't determined by the builders.

        Nor were priorities so determined beyond the home: much of our labor to bring things up to code was functionally unnecessary. And even though Dad was a labor journalist who covered the construction trades and well understood the politics of the codes' obsolescence, he never thought seriously of cutting more than a hidden minor corner illegally. In part, his docility came from his unsureness in a still-new sport and the inaccessible investments of capital and time that experiment in it required. But mostly it came from his being in this, as in all ways of his conduct save the political, essentially obedient to the laws and mores of our authoritarian systems, out of fear.

        53.  When the impetus of collective political action freed me from the university, it was to pursue learning differently. My experience as a student and young teacher, in and out of the technological orbit, led me to study afresh how people learn what they need, and how to restructure education around this, as essential to social change. Looking back only recently over the stuff the tides of poetry bring up and leave on the beaches, I discover this image of how I learned at my oId man's hands.

        Even flawed, it seems to present an essential model for the way in which education -- the process of learning the full wheel of our technologies, material and other -- may be reconceived as a process of continual regeneration, of beginning again. Its Way is learning to learn by the light of example, of competent learners learning newly. Its medium is growing participation in a shared task, of rich form and completion and metaphorical substance, organized around real needs and broad in its human dimensions. Its working-out can begin at any point in human space, our lives, where technology faces upon major needs.

        This isn't the whole recipe. But even from these few principles, it is clear that to remake (technological) education is to remake our lives, radically and comprehensively, into a context in which the young grow surrounded by example of experiment and risk in transcending our condition.

So pick up that hammer,
pick up that gun.
pick up the flute.
let's have some fun.


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