Processed World #31

Issue 31 of Processed World from Fall 1993.

processedworld31proc.pdf6.58 MB

Table of Contents

Truant Heads

from our readers

Making Stoopid
article by mickey d.

A Year in Espanola
tale of teaching toil by salvador ferret

Jobs Are:
graphic by pw collective

Fast Learner
fiction by r.l. tripp

Fat Lot of Good it Did Me!
tale of toil by dolores job

The High Cost of Sleep
fiction by greg evans

Sleep With Mouth Open
poem by marina lazzara

* The Thin Sheet-Metal Line - a look at
carjacking, by kwazee wabbit
* I Love What You Do For Me - living with a
car, by kash
* Critical Mass - ride daily, celebrate
monthly!, by chris carlsson

Distance No Object
fiction by gloria frynn

by tom wayman, blair ewing, harry brody, gerald england, meryn cadell, spenser thompson

Confessions of an Atheist Priest
tale of toil, psychotherapist, by kwazee wabbitt

Public Education: Remaking A Public
article by chris carlsson

Competent For What?
"competence" training in australian schools, by arena magazine

* midnight notes collective's midnight oil - by chris carlsson
* john hoffman's the art & science of dumpster diving - by petra leuze
* peter linebaugh's the london hanged - by chris carlsson
* angela bocage's real girl sex comic collection - by petra leuze

I Beg To Disagree
poem by antler

* Bank of America Infiltrated! - office
sabotage, by ace tylene
* Wake Up and Smell the Tiers! - manifesto by
the nasty secretary liberation front
* Struggle Against Study - scamming your way
through college, by sal acker

Take No Chances
fiction by primitivo morales
back cover by Sarah Moni, Richard Wool and Iguana Mente

Truant heads

The capitalist today, if he wishes to remain one, must support the government, and even lead the way, in giving the children whom he may one day need on the machines an education such as a hundred years ago very few children of manufacturers ever got. It goes against the grain with him, but he has no choice. Today, and still more this is true of the future, it is not the country which is most highly educated at the top, but the country which is most highly educated at the bottom that takes first place and decides the worth of the dollar." (“The Caretta,” B. Traven, circa 1926)

The crisis in education has become a subject worthy of headlines, the op‑ed page, and other “public” forums, typically with the lament that education's failures are the source of a steady decline in US industrial productivity. The failures are robbing the country of its competitive advantage. Worse yet, though unstated, the cream of an admittedly faulty crop need new ways to rationalize their relative privilege. Excellence will be the standard, and economic progress the goal of a new educational strategy.

According to the National Commission on Excellence in Education report, A Nation at Risk, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.... We [sic] have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.” Businesses complain about the high cost of finding qualified entry‑level personnel. Six out of ten PacBell applicants are rejected because they can't pass a 7th‑grade‑level test; 40% of BofA applicants fail tests requiring alphabetizing names and putting 5‑digit numbers in sequential order; Wells Fargo wannabes suffer a 50% failure rate on similarly mindless exams. These people literally won't do.

A 1985 Bureau of Labor Statistics report finds that, even when high‑tech industries are broadly defined, they “will account for only a small proportion of the new jobs through 1995.” Opportunities abound for the custodian, cashier, secretary, kitchen helper, security guard, or doorkeeper (in that order). Disregarding the calls for a higher degree of “schooling,” low‑paying, low‑skill jobs keep growing.

Despite deliberate efforts to de‑skill the workplace, in part because it's easier to control fragmented servants who process information they'll never really understand, skilled labor is still required. Smart machines have needs, too. Each automated step forward demands a support staff—although today much of the expertise comes from contracted technical support, payroll‑ service bureaus, independent tax consultants, etc. Generally self-employed or small-business employees, these workers are scattered and unable to cooperate, and are frequently trapped in technologically obsolete fields.

The experts agree: The failure of the schools threatens the nation's competitiveness and the USA's status as the richest country in history. In response to what A Nation at Risk calls “a rising tide of mediocrity,” policy‑makers propose the standard of “excellence” as the focal point of a comprehensive educational strategy devoted to the future of high‑tech America.

Education Is Their Business

From the late 1830s through the 1840s, “common schools” were established to “shape character,” in response to increasing urbanization and the demise of skilled craftsmen and self‑sufficient farmers. Schooling was widely applied, though the female, slave, Indian, and the ghetto poor were usually not educated (might give 'em ideas). Even a casual look at the requirements for being a teacher (female, unwed, proper, etc.) shows that something more was expected than reading and writing.

Between the 1890s and 1920s, schools smoothed the way for the development of more intensive bureaucratization. A new professional elite of “education executives” trained in the hierarchical organization techniques of scientific management and the edicts of business efficiency reorganized the school to mirror the modern factory. High school also served as an institution to “Americanize” potentially “radical“ immigrants.

After World War II, the G.I. Bill made higher education possible for more people, and a multi‑tiered system evolved: community colleges for the minimally trained working class; large, state universities for future mid‑level bureaucrats; and elite, private institutions for the progeny of the ruling class. A “knowledge race” with the USSR necessitated a vast outpouring of federal funds for scientific R & D and a class of engineers and physical scientists, wedding the “multiversities” with the military‑industrial complex.

As the universities developed into centers of political dissent in the late '60s, interests such as the liberal Trilateral Commission cited the “crisis in democracy” as a cause for great alarm, and recommended, among other things, that business move away from utilizing the university for research purposes. The faculty and students were deemed unfriendly to the needs of the status quo. The threat of a capital “strike” encouraged reform in the profit‑oriented universities.

To maintain its economic viability, the university now leases and/or sells its resources—labs, computer centers, faculty—for corporate use. The trend is to render the campus more amenable to corporate partnerships and research contracting. Silicon Valley, Research Triangle, and Route 128 are models of private spin‑offs of the universities, serving the interests of the high‑tech industry. At the same time, policy‑makers increasingly rely on private (i.e. corporate) think‑tanks to mobilize public opinion and set long‑term policy goals for the state. These institutions, not surprisingly, are the authorities behind most commissioned reports regarding educational reform.

Reeling & Writhing, revisited

As information replaces material wealth and traditional authority as the foundation of social power and status, the power of technocracy grows. In its educational form technocracy is meritocracy: a means of determining “value” based upon allegedly objective standards such as testing, quantification, and approved methods of abstraction. In response to demands for equal access to educational (and other) opportunities, “excellence” relegitimates meritocracy by asserting the fiction of value‑neutral criteria.

As the attack on social equality moves ahead, and depoliticization reaches new extremes, the ideology of “excellence” validates the increased power of the knowledge brokers. Technocracy by its nature cannot turn its world view over to public evaluation. “Excellence,” a conveniently malleable standard (one of Clinton's catch phrases), grafts a dimension of quality onto an otherwise value‑less perspective.

The crisis in education, according to the managers of the latest frontier, is caused by laxity, apathy, and a decline in respect for authority. Calls for excellence are mere attempts to bolster discipline and inculcate respect for those above you on the social ladder: the self‑proclaimed self‑achievers.

To be less than excellent is to be mediocre, and a failure to society. Meritocracy declares that success or failure is in the hands of the individual, so you've only yourself to blame as you crash through the safety net.

Clubbing Together

It should be no surprise that many high school graduates can't locate the US on the world map, or think the Declaration of Independence is a communist document. Preventing such ignorance is not useful. But the values of gym teachers and Rhodes scholars (conformity, competition, patriotism) are useful. Perhaps nowhere but in the US has the opposition between critical thought and discipline been brought to such a fine pitch.

Americans are a product of a deliberate system. The desire for a class of technically proficient idiots has been satisfied; the learned will try to convince you that buying and selling go back to the last ice age. From high office to low, not just a lack of knowledge, but a willful inability to think is a regular product of US schools.

Most of the pieces on education in this issue were created by such products; we'd like to think that we haven't totally failed in looking at this omni-present institution. Mickey D. savages the school system in "Making Stoopid." Dolores Job details her very personal saga of Catholic‑schoolgirl‑turned‑social‑critic as she decries her education in “Fat Lot of Good it Did Me.” Our Southwestern correspondent Salvador Ferret checks in with a revealing tale of toil, teaching 6th grade in Espanola, New Mexico. In Chris Carlsson's "Remaking a Public" social relations in school are cited as an example in a call for a reanimated public life as a basis for a renewal and renaissance in education. Lawrence Tripp's fiction (currently) explores some possibilities and problems with augmented learning.

Kwazee Wabbit gives us the "Confessions of an Atheist Priest," which looks at both graduate education and the "helping" professions. In the "Downtime" section "Scamming thru College" reveals a somewhat different approach to college. "Downtime" also looks at some office shenanigans by management ("Wake Up and the Smell Tiers") about Bank of America's recent attack on its employees, and counter-bank action ("BofA Infiltrated").

A new addition in this issue is a section on transportation and related issues; this time we have an unabashed call for bicycling ("I Love What You Do for Me"), a report/recruiting call on "Critical Mass," a recent action in the Bay Area to demonstrate bicycle presence, and an essay on America's latest home-action craze, car jacking.

The reviews section looks at topics ranging from Dumpster Diving to the victims of London's class war in the 18th century, not neglecting modern comics and the bigger issues of the Oil War(s). Greg Evan's "High Cost of Sleep" and Primitivo Morales' "Take No Chances" are un-utopian fictions for our time, while Gloria Frym's insightful short story tells the story of a museum guard in "Distance No Object." Antler returns to our pages with "I Beg To Disagree," while other poetry explores topics ranging from grading papers to applying for a job in our poetry section. An extensive letters section rounds out the magazine.

We want to hear what you think -- please write us! We want to take note of all those people who produced material for this issue that wasn't used -- we were swamped with many excellent articles and fictions pieces we had no room for. To all contributors, published or not, our thanks!

A year in española

A tale of teaching toil in a bilingual school in New Mexico.

SEPTEMBER 18, 1991. Central Office, Espanola School District, Espanola, New Mexico. The Director of the district's Title VII bilingual program reads to us five "paraprofessional tutors" from a prepared statement: "At-risk LEP students will participate in an English language development program in which conceptual understanding is enhanced using the interactive instructional media of literary arts, music, drama, visual/media arts and creative writing. Subcomponent objectives: LEP students will gain cognitive/academic language proficiency, English language conceptual development, and content area knowledge by participating in an interactive literary arts instructional program."

She meets our glazed eyes and, realizing that perhaps the statement itself is not English, puts it aside and tells that, to put it simply, our goal is to build the children's "self-esteem" so that they do better on something called the California Test of Basic Skills. California, apparently, is the measure of all things, even in rural New Mexico; California decides which skills are basic. Even the whole idea of "self-esteem" as personal commodity, a measurable quantity that can be added to or subtracted from depending on the presence or absence of the proper therapeutic environment, sounds very California New Age. If this facile idea of self-esteem were in fact true, I can envision a Skinner Box world controlled by professional esteem-builders, in which we all do very well on our "skills" tests and become happy and, above all, highly productive citizens.

Of the five tutors for this twice-weekly after-school program, I am by far the most unqualified. But if someone doesn't fill the "Imaginative Writing" slot, federal funds will remain unspent, and that would be unthinkable. The public schools are collectively the largest employer in Rio Arriba county, which is one of the poorest counties in the second-poorest state in the nation. So the federal pump must be kept primed. The main thing is, the Director has asked me in my interview,do I like children? Well, I say, in a tone that suggests I like them mostly fricasseed with onions on the side, a recipe I learned from the W.C. Fields cookbook, well... Great, says the Director; sign right here.

October 8, 1991. My first day teaching! I have prepared an opening oration worthy of address to the U.N. General Assembly, full of high-flown notions of discovering identity, heritage, roots, through writing and self-expression. The 10 or so 6th grade faces, all mestizo, regard me with a mixture of amusement, boredom, and scorn.

"You talk funny."

"Is the art teacher your..? (giggle)."

"Yeah, do you and her (snicker) get busy?" (Peals).

Welcome to 6th grade, fool. Don't you remember?

October 15. is I'm not ready to give up on my theme yet; hope springs eternal for the new teacher, or at least until mid-fall. Columbus Day, or as it's called in Mexico, Dia de las Razas (Day of the Races), is around the corner, and I would like to get some student reflections on their Hispanicity. What might be their thoughts on the "discovery" and the conquest? The question, which I put to them in various ways, draws a blank. I have expected at least the kind of laconism, no less poignant for its impassivity, expressed on the Mexico City plaque at the site of Cortes' decisive victory over the Aztecs: "Neither good nor bad but the painful birth of the Mexican people." These children, however, appear to have not even a clue as to their racial identity. They have never heard the word mestizo, and they adamantly refuse to recognize their Indian blood. Instead, they call themselves "Spanish." It's as if Juarez and Bolivar and the wars of independence from Spain, which ushered in a proud mestizo identity to the rest of the Americas, had never taken place.

What is to account for this abysmal ignorance? The U.S. educational system, plainly. Detractors of this system, which is practically everybody these days including members of the ruling elite, who cynically enrich themselves from this ignorance while denouncing it, often complain that the system's too "centralized." But let's see what "local control" of education has meant to Rio Arriba county schools. For one thing, the local tax base is so low that these schools get about half the funding, per capita, as compared to richer school districts, such as neighboring Los Alamos county, an enclave of middle-class atomic scientists. For another, the school board consists of five men who, like virtually all Rio Arriba county officials, are pawns of political boss Emilio Naranjo and his Democratic Party machine. Twenty-five years ago, a radical named Reies Lopez Tixerina led a nationalist uprising in Rio Arriba county which was ultimately quashed by the tanks and machine guns of the National Guard. Tixerina had an accurate name for his people, indo-hispanos, and told them their modern history, which is the history of the rip off of their land by the U.S. Government and the land-hungry capitalists it serves following the Mexican-American War. When all the forces of repression came down on Tixerina, he served his prison time and then retired to the village of Coyote to teach his children at home. Meanwhile, Mr. Naranjo and his Democrats tightened their grip on local politics and, by extension, the schools, for the purpose of propagating the ignorance that has served them so well. This year, the Espanola city fathers have commissioned a statue of Juan de Onate, the region's greedy Spanish conquistador. A statue of a conquistador, a stone's throw from two Indian pueblos! Such a thing would be unthinkable in Latin America (except for some very specialized purpose, such as at the Cortes Palace in Cuernavaca).

October 29. It's Halloween time, and the children's thoughts are red with gore. The stories they devise are all rehashes of the nightmares on Elm Street and the antics of Freddy Kruger and little Chuckie. Tales of terror in the white suburbs; nothing autochthonous, nothing set in their own rural environment, nothing involving figures from their own traditions, such as La Llorona, the ghostly woman who wanders in search of her drowned children. The children are imbued with television and Hollywood culture.

November 12. After a month of teaching, I can say that nearly all my students are deficient in attention, overstimulated, aggressive. What makes them this way? I have canvassed a few veteran teachers on this, and they all tell me whatever the cause (television gets most of the blame), these things have been getting a lot worse in recent years.

December 10. It's getting near Christmas, presumably a family time, and I would like my students to write something about their families. They are eager to tell me, orally, about an uncle on the lam from the law, a dope-dealing cousin, a brother who stole and pawned the family's log-splitter last week. But they don't wish to commit these confessions to paper; they don't want to get into trouble, they say. So this week we settle for composing obscene poems about Santa Claus, which is the only other writing topic that seems to inspire them today.

January 7. Inauspicious beginning of a new semester. I would like to begin a long-term project, such as keeping a journal, but they find that overwhelming. I try to convince them its easy; I tell them I'm keeping one about this very class. Alarmed, they demand to see it, but I tell them they can't until they begin to write their own. Nah, forget it then. So it's back to the usual daily topics: "The Story of a Dime," "If I Were Invisible," "My Favorite Pet." Clarence, who has rings of weariness under his eyes but is also one of the more hyperactive, as though he is kept up every night and given stimulant pills for breakfast, has a typical opening to "If I Could Fly": "If I could fly, I would fly over the school and piss and shit on all the teachers (except Mr. Ferret)..."

February 15. I can appreciate the children's loathing of teachers and schools; I never cared for them much myself. I am convinced that the schools are part of what Althusser called the Ideological State Apparatus, or what Gramsci called hegemony, that finely-tuned combination of police repression and ideological control. And that I, in my capacity as a teacher, am both policeman and administrator of that ideology. But I am also concerned, like Gramsci, that their nearly total incompetence in reading and writing, in either English or Spanish, will leave them wanting in some of the tools and skills they need to overthrow the dominant culture. My situation, then, is extremely awkward.

They are well aware, if not of my particular dilemma, then certainly of the master-slave dialectic that exists between us. If they were a couple of grades younger, I might be able to get them to perform just to please me, like pet dogs. But now they are old enough to be aware that my own identity as a successful teacher depends on their performance. I need them more than they need me. It's my "self-esteem," not theirs, that is at stake. And within the logic of this dialectic of dominance and submission, they are right, of course. So how can I get them to accept that I might possess cultural tools they can use to overthrow the culture I represent?

I don't think, as teacher, I can. Asking them, as I do this day, to do the work "for themselves," that it's "for their own good" sounds so ridiculous that it sticks in my throat.

February 25. These children's threats of violence to each other, which they sometimes carry out, are enough to make you cringe. Particularly disturbing are the boys' threats to rape the girls. At this age, the girls are as big as the boys and are often the aggressors. But what happens when sexual dimorphism sets in and the boys get big enough to overpower the girls? Last week I got fed up with their threats and yelled at them and kicked a chair across the room. That got their attention, and they were very subdued the rest of the day, but I felt ashamed, because it was such a contradictory thing, using violence to assert that violence is wrong.

This week I return humbled by my own conscience, hoping that last week's rage hasn't crushed or alienated them completely. Fat chance. They greet me warmly, if a little smugly. "You lost it last week, huh?" says Tony, our main bully. I have shown that I am human, and this pleases them, and I have shown that they can get to me, and some of them, especially Tony, like that even more.

From what I have gathered from other teachers and from Tony himself, he has a wretched home life, and so he is probably "acting out" a lot of his unhappiness. Most bullies, however, if we are to believe the famous recent Swedish bully study, are not at all the fragile emotional vessels the liberal therapy establishment likes to claim they are, but are in fact well-adjusted little thugs that go on to bully their way to the top of all kinds of businesses and institutions. So when so much anti-social behavior is rewarded by success in present society, what exactly does it mean to build "self-esteem" and "security"? In Tony's case, I guess it means smoothing out a few of the rougher psychotic edges (which would handicap him, however, if he were to be called to serve his nation's military in some far-off land) and controlling his tears of frustration (also a handicap if he were to be called to congress or court to explain why he massacred all those people). Apart from that, it's... Go get 'em, little tiger!

In fact, self-esteem, as I understand it, does not appear to be much lacking in these children, at least to my therapeutically untrained eye. For one thing, they are highly arrogant about their ignorance. Well, maybe there's a basis to this arrogance; it must take a good deal of concentration and willpower to sit through twelve years of school and come out not knowing how to read, as a large percentage of students these days do. In any case, "self-esteem" does not seem to me to be something terribly lacking in the American character. As an example, a graph in Andrew Shapiro's book We're Number One! (New York, 1992) shows 68% of American 13-year-olds saying they are "good at math," and only 23% of South Koreans saying the same. The Americans' average math proficiency score is 473.9, below the mean of 500; the Koreans' is 567.8.

April 7. It's the middle of basketball season, and basketball is all that is on the children's minds. Having given up on getting them to write (save for a couple of pieces on, what else, basketball), I allow them to go out and play it. On the basketball court I see them, for the first time, really work together, without coercion, and have a good time doing it. My presence is scarcely noted or needed. Basketball is the best thing that's happened to this class all year. I decide to let them play basketball as much as they want for the rest of the term; if my superiors call me on it, I will tell them it's all preparation for writing more basketball stories. Besides, my classroom is always locked now: the custodian died of acute alcohol poisoning the other day, and nobody ever seems to have another set of keys.

May 12. The basketball scheme has worked. I haven't been called on this unusual method for teaching writing, and the school year is now slouching toward its end. Part of my superiors' indifference to my method is no doubt owed to the fact that this particular program will probably not be funded next year because of some kind of malfeasance or neglect at the central office (it has been like pulling teeth to get paid and sometimes we weren't paid for months on end, but finally we did get all that was owed us).

May 19. Last week! In sum, what can I say my experience taught me about teaching? Right off, I'd say that we shouldn't even try to "teach" children after a certain age. Teach them the basics when they're young, probably by good old rote methods, and when they get to the age, around fifth grade, when they become aware of school as the prison or factory it is, let all those who want to go play and explore and discover things on their own, but always with academic or didactic resources at their disposal, should they want them. Maybe only by giving them their freedom will they actually learn something worthwhile.

by Salvador Ferret

Bank of America infiltrated!

Two articles, the first about a sabotage prank at the Bank of America, the second about restructuring at the bank and in the white-collar industries in general.

The 57‑floor Bank of America building towered over us, its black granite grid menacing us like a giant waffle iron ready to snap shut. Posing as contractors, we were about to remove an interior wall from an office and take it home with us. Carrying a motorcycle helmet and a shoulder bag I explored most of the building as a lost courier. Identical offices line identical halls on identical floors—perfect for the job.

BofA suffers from the muddled management structure typical of large American corporations: distant, overpaid executives direct redundant levels of middle managers who supervise countless specialized workers. We suspected we could enter an office, cut out a wall, cover a hole with toxic danger signs and leave without anyone knowing we hadn't been hired to do it. We wanted to be as disruptive as possible without attracting the authorities. We would create chaos and pretend to be in control of it.

According to our computer‑produced IDs, we were Halyard Semmins and Laila Finecke, field investigators for Spemtech, a toxics testing company. A work order detailed the rest: Spemtech had been authorized by the State Toxics Board to conduct tests for commercial Health and Safety Certification. We were testing for ThorofilTM, a carcinogenic DuPont fiber once used to fireproof drywall. Required by law, the work was free. Could they say no?

To make our appointment we called on a Thursday just before 5 p.m., hoping the building manager had left for the day. He had. We left a message saying we'd be there Friday afternoon, and we supplied a random fax number to slow down verification. It might buy us time if anyone decided to check us out while we were in the building.

Friday at 4:15 p.m., Laila adjusted her tool‑company baseball cap, I tucked in my “Perot for America” t‑shirt, and we went in with toolboxes and bored contractor expressions. The assistant in charge was confused by our work order. He kept asking, “You want to do what?” and saying “I don't know anything about this.” I repeated our job's description, which was to remove a small section of drywall for testing.

“You're going to have to come back Monday so I can clear this with my boss,” he decided.

“Look,” I said, “we just came all the way from Hayward to do a 20‑minute job. You send us back, we're going to have to refile your paperwork with the state, which is going to delay your certification. You know what the late fine would be on a building this big?”

He ushered us up to the Office of Overseas Affairs, which we had chosen for its sinister name and proximity to freight elevators. While I removed corporate art (matches the carpets) from the wall and stacked furniture in a corner, Laila explained our presence to nearby workers.

“We're just doing some routine fiber separation tests here,” she announced. “Shouldn't take more than a few minutes.”

The workers seemed satisfied. Laila put down dropcloths and duct‑taped them to the floor while I ran an electronic stud sensor over the walls, selected for the irritating beep it produces when it senses a nail. We marked these spots with a graffiti‑grade permanent marker. I drew a square around them and marked big right angles in its corners, adding equations where appropriate. It was time to put on the suits.

The suits were the key to creating chaos. We would put on as much frightening emergency gear as possible while reassuring the workers around us that they were completely safe. The suits, made of bright white Tyvek and emblazoned with red “Spemtech,” “Biohazard” and “Extreme Danger” logos, had draw‑tight hoods and rubberized feet. Donning latex gloves, safety goggles and respirators, we were extra careful to tuck everything in. Laila handed me a three‑quarter‑inch hole drill.

“Are you sure we don't need suits?” a worker asked, laughing nervously. Others were closing their doors or peering cautiously over partitions. “Absolutely,” I said through my respirator. “You're perfectly safe.”

As I drilled holes in the wall, Laila plugged them with black rubber stoppers. After drilling each hole, we carefully shook the drill‑bit dust into a plastic sample bag. Workers watched us from behind glass doors now. I sweated in my suit. After I slashed deep into the white wall with a utility knife, we pulled out a 3x5‑foot wedge of wall. While I cut it into pieces sized to fit our yellow sample bags (marked “DANGER”), Laila spread plastic over the wound and sealed it with duct tape. Then we plastered the surrounding wall with warning stickers ‑‑ French, English and Spanish versions of “Do Not Ventilate” and “Danger of Death.”

We cleaned up and got out with our drywall trophies. Two days later a friend photographed our work. The wall had been fixed, all evidence removed.

What did this act prove? Did the assistant who let us in get in trouble? Lose his job? It's easy to get swept up in the excitement and ignore the downside — something we can't afford to do in the future. But the possibilities that this “practice run” opened up are heartening. With the right preparation and attitude, structures can be infiltrated. With added content, ideas could be introduced and minds opened.

—Ace Tylene

Wake Up and Smell the Tiers!

i n n e r v o i c e # 1 0 — 2/10/93

On Friday, February 5, 1993, Bank of America announced in its particularly arrogant fashion that it was cutting all (or most) of its full‑time tellers and administrative support staff to less than 20 hours a week. Along with the cut in hours, the Bank sheds all the burdensome (to its bottom line) benefits such as sick pay, paid vacations, and medical insurance while reporting record profits! The result for bank workers is a major cut in living standards and an urgent push toward the door if they want to hold on to the income they've become accustomed to. But if they leave the Bank of America, many are no doubt thinking, where will they go?

The Monday newspaper revealed that the local monopoly utility PG&E is planning to cut back its San Francisco‑based, white collar workforce by as much as 10% over the next few months, and is bringing in management consultants to help in this “downsizing,” supposedly because of market competition! Then the Tuesday newspaper reports that Safeway, the nation's largest supermarket chain, based in Oakland, is also going to be trimming its home office staff, and is publicly targeting its 85 stores in the Canadian province of Alberta as a major cost‑cutting area. “If efforts to address our labor costs fail, we may have to abandon the Alberta market altogether,” said Peter Magowan, Safeway's CEO (the same Magowan who recently led the purchase of the SF Giants and signed outfielder Barry Bonds to a $43 million contract). Dozens of small businesses go under every week, and many self‑employed are also choking on recessionary dust.

Years after the advent of the Rust Bowl and the gradual deindustrialization of the United States, the purge of workers and rationalization of labor processes have finally begun to hit white collar workers as hard as blue collar workers were hit in the 1970s and '80s. And not surprisingly, it's being done using the same methods: BofA insiders reported that the cutbacks were the result of Taylorist time‑and‑motion studies conducted last year on branch operations. After analyzing how long it took to do typical operations such as cashing checks, opening accounts and selling traveler's checks, management came to the obvious conclusion (obvious to anyone who has ever worked in a bank) that a lot of the work time they were buying from workers wasn't being used to carry on bank activities and increase bank profits. Hence the dramatic cuts and speedup for those who hold on.

Daily reports of economic recovery and wildly improved productivity measurements underscore the reality that this wave of wage‑cuts, rationalization and layoffs is no fluke. The assault on living standards is precisely the mechanism by which “economic health” is restored. Historically, renewed business activity led to increased employment, but that was before the enormous wave of computerization and generalized automation of the past two decades. Glowing reports of improved productivity and profits will not lead to widespread hiring. In fact, Clinton's plans to link health care coverage to employment is already a major incentive for companies to rid themselves of as many employees as possible, replacing them where necessary with temporary workers supplied by other companies.

Moreover, the big picture of social change looks like more and more people are being thrown down the stairs, out of the upper tier which offered middle class living standards and some sense of security and guaranteed material well‑being, and into the much larger lower tier. In the lower tier (which in turn rests on the burgeoning underclass of homeless and permanently unemployed), people never quite get enough income or work, and find themselves anxiously awaiting a call from the employment or temp agency, hoping for another few days, weeks or months of steady work, only to find the periods between paid work growing longer as the paid work becomes increasingly part‑time and intermittent. Fear and desperation in turn increases one's willingness to endure intolerably dull, stupid and dangerous work.

So how do we respond? Do we organize ourselves to demand jobs? Do we insist that the government guarantee employment or mandate that companies make new, larger unemployment payments to offset the loss of paid work? Why not?

Or do we finally begin to look beyond the existing setup to demand a new relationship between human society, the work it does, and the way the products of human work are distributed?

Isn't it long overdue that we expand our social rights to include our RIGHT TO DO USEFUL, MEANINGFUL WORK?

Isn't it long overdue that we guarantee all members of society a decent standard of living, regardless of what contributions they actually make? After two centuries of automation and dramatic increases in productivity, there is no justification for maintaining 40‑hour work weeks, 50 weeks of work per year. It is time to restructure the work in society so no one has to spend more than a few hours a week at anything (although everyone should be free to spend as long as they like at activities they enjoy, useful or “frivolous”). It is time to make a permanent break between work and income, a break that will be resisted to the death by the owners and managers of this society. In the short term, we should begin discussing and insisting on our right to worthwhile work. In the medium and longer term we should begin imagining how much better life could be without the absurd economic structures that promote overwork and conspicuous consumption at one end, desperate homelessness and crime‑ridden insanity at the other, and precarious insecurity for all in between. The current assault on white-collar workers in the Bay Area is just the latest installment of a long process that will lead to an increasingly barbaric society unless we forcibly resist.

Those of you still inside have a lot more power than you think. You control valuable hardware, data, and other vulnerable links in the corporate empire. Use your imagination, find your allies; they are all around you! Abandon the false comfort that comes from the belief that if you are sufficiently docile and obedient, the Paternal Corporation will take care of you. Nothing could be further from the truth in this dog‑eat‑dog (or is that company‑eat‑people?) world. The two‑tiered society is being created by design, not by accident. Your place in it is not certain, but it is certainly not at the top! The longer they are allowed to pursue this process, the weaker we become. While you still have some leverage over things they care about (data integrity, hardware, software, attitudes, and so on), take advantage! And let us know what's happening, and we'll try to get the word out.

—Nasty Secretary Liberation Front

Confessions of an atheist priest

A psychotherapist's critique of the psychotherapy industry.

Soon after I began training as a psychotherapist, I knew that I was going to have a major problem with Faith. I hoped that these doubts would fade, that my initial cynical mistrust of what seemed like self‑serving, made‑up gibberish would soon be challenged by the irrefutable (or at least plausible) evidence of Science and direct experience. Alas, it only got worse as I went along.

Upon close examination the bizarre, competing theories of psychotherapy turned out to be even cheesier than they looked from a distance. The empirical data was just as damning; no reputable researcher has ever managed to document much significant benefit from head‑shrinking. And my personal experience, as a properly trained and well‑respected therapist, only confirmed my initial impression that the vast majority of psychotherapy is a waste of time, equally likely to harm as to help.

Back when I'd first considered the Profession it seemed uniquely attractive. Sitting at my desk at my clerical job, which I'd held for nearly three years at that point (a “personal best” in my occupational history), I'd had plenty of time to contemplate the meaningless quality of most Work, and especially of my particular work. In fact, that was the period of my life when I first consciously embraced my Bad Attitude. Previously I'd simply avoided and ignored the phenomenon of Work as much as I could in a naive, unthinking way, without ever truly coming to grips with it.

There were a number of purely pragmatic and practical advantages to Becoming a Psychotherapist. Qualifying for The Profession required (at least) four years of graduate school, or from my perspective, that much more heavily subsidized prolonged adolescence and absence from the full‑time workforce. Thus, craftily, I committed to ending my career of perpetual postponement by taking just one, last half‑decade detour. For me, at least, School was fun as well as meaningful, in stark contrast to my current situation which was neither.

It was also prestigious, and would delight my bourgeois relatives (who found my career up to then somewhat disappointing) and piss the hell out of my boss, to say nothing of boosting my own self‑esteem as I ascended from lowly clerk to haughty, intellectual “professional.”

Finally, while I was still far from sharing the consumerist aspirations of the vast majority of my peers, I was beginning to feel the allure of a comfortable, middle‑class existence. If I absolutely had to work to support myself I might as well have a cushy job that, at its basic level, amounted to sitting around and talking to people and telling them how to run their lives better. Frankly, I felt I had some natural talents in this direction.

I still think I do, but I've given up on the notion of shrinking heads for a living. I've also surrendered to the painfully obvious fact that Psychotherapy is most certainly no “Science” (though it may qualify as an “Art”) and is a sad species of Profession, offering little of value in return for its amazingly steep fees. Overall I would judge it as valid, helpful and consistent a practice as the fortune‑telling done by the brujas who run little botanicas in marginal urban neighborhoods across the U.S.: the customers are satisfied and keep coming back, but it's difficult for the rest of us to detect any true benefits from these questionable ministrations.

Declining health due to AIDS gave me a good excuse to retire from the field after only a few years as a processional psychotherapist. In fact, counseling is an easy profession for a fatigue‑disabled person (after all, you get to sit the whole time and can limit your client load to match your energy level); but I had no stomach for it. If my time were limited, as it pretty much seems to be, did I really want to spend my precious hours listening to people whine and rationalize about why they had to live their lives exactly as they were, despite how miserable it was making them?

Viewed from that cold, harsh perspective, the answer was clearly “no,” and so I retired, not quite seven years after I'd started.


Reagan was just beginning his second term (1984) when I entered graduate school. I was one of a cohort of seven neophytes being initiated into the Counseling Psychology program, a sub‑group of the department's crop of 30 or so first‑year graduate students. About a dozen or so more were students in Clinical Psychology — the differences between “Counseling” and “Clinical” Psychology were endlessly debated but are, for all intents and purposes, non‑existent, having more to do with academic turf division than anything else. The remaining Psych grad students were in the “Experimental” (i.e., non‑clinical, research oriented) program.

But Experimental, Counseling or Clinical, we were all selected for our promise as academics and researchers, rather than for clinical skills potential and this showed. It was well‑known that expressing any interest in the professional practice of psychotherapy was the kiss of death as far as getting accepted into programs like ours at large, cheap state universities, which (mostly) supported you while providing training as a clinician. There are also urban professional schools, but these are upscale private institutions along the lines of law and business schools, charging top dollar in return for the prospect of easy entry into profitable guild, providing “meaningful” work.

Few of us were really interested in becoming academics or researchers and we mostly had our hearts set on Becoming Therapists, but we were all savvy enough to figure on concealing this for the next four years.

In line with this largely inaccurate assumption that we were all primarily motivated as researchers, the bulk of our classwork focused on statistics and a review of the relevant body of research on clinical psychology, rather than on clinical skills — not, but the way, that these can really be taught, but it was distressing to see them dismissed so easily. The statistics were boring. The research was horrifying in its revelation of psychotherapy's emptiness, at least as regards empirical evidence. The clinical skills stuff, when we finally got around to it, was fun but worrisome.

We began by doing role plays, acting out the part of shrinker and shrinkee and practicing the basic therapeutic techniques: simple reflective statements and reframings (“It sounds like you feel that your boyfriend is a psychotic, abusive creep and you're wondering what you should do about it.”) It was spooky how much shallow interactions sounded like “real” psychotherapy.

Then, in our second semester, we graduated to working on live clients, depressed freshmen who'd reported to the university counseling center and been turned over to us as guinea pigs. Therapy is one of those things that can only be learned by doing. Sessions were taped and presumably reviewed by supervisors, though in practice (as I learned as a fourth year student, when I provided such supervision to the fresh crop of neophytes) this uninteresting chore was often sloughed over; it was enough that you knew that someone COULD be listening to your efforts.

As we progressed, we received more advanced clients, seriously flipped‑out seniors instead of just homesick freshmen. You were expected to justify all interventions by one of the half‑dozen or so generally accepted competing theories of therapy (e.g. psychoanalytic, humanistic, or rational‑emotive [isn't that an oxymoron?] approaches), but it really didn't matter too much which you used. Anything that didn't drive the patients to suicide or litigation was acceptable.

In our later years, we did internships at local mental health centers and agencies. If you were a good finangler or kissed the right butts, you could get one that actually paid money. Otherwise you had to do unpaid therapy as part of paying your dues and logging your hours. There was no serious attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of your work, as the standards of practice were broad and lenient. Only the most blatantly and monumentally incompetent therapists ever had any trouble getting by—and even those ended up getting their degrees (and, subsequently, jobs) without too much trouble. The “standard of care” is so low that just about anyone not actively hallucinating can meet it.


An ironic thing about head‑shrinking, a phenomenon that illustrates its paradoxical nature, is that the more dangerous, useful and necessary your work, the less it pays and the less training it requires. Most suicide prevention hotlines are staffed by unpaid volunteers. Looking after dangerously psychotic people in a halfway house requires only a high school diploma and pays little above minimum wage. Doing essentially the same work in a high‑security private psych hospital (like the multitudinous Barclay's chain) usually requires a 2‑year degree, but pays like a medium‑scale union job. Many of these “Psych Techs” are on exactly the same anti‑hallucination meds as their “clients” (but, presumably, are responding more effectively to them).

Doing field work to prevent child abuse, ostensibly one of our nation's sacred duties and highest priorities, is poorly paid and often acutely dangerous. Child protection workers in rural areas have a high mortality rate because of trigger‑happy backwoods molesters with no patience for the Law's endless quibbles about age of consent and degrees of consanguity. Often counselors' only training is an advanced home ec or “mental hygiene” class in high school; accordingly, the job tends to pay small town librarian's wages, maybe $15,000 per year. But a dozen years down the road, counseling the wounded “Inner Child” that (presumably results) from such early abuse easily pays $100 an hour.

A shrink who focuses on traditional psychotherapy (i.e. hour‑long weekly meeting for perhaps many years [or even decades] with high‑functioning, well‑paid but slightly neurotic yuppies) can hope to earn close to a hundred thousand dollars with a decent practice. To do this safe and well‑paid work requires, oddly, several years' training and numerous degrees, licenses, and credentials.

This rule of inverse effort holds across the board in the The Profession with logarithmic consistency. An agency therapist, like the staff at a Counseling Center, gets the stability of a regular wage and benefits but earns half of what s/he'd make with a good practice. Top‑line therapists can hold lucrative training seminars, or even found new theoretical schools of psychotherapy. This is well‑paid, prestigious and rewarding work: it also removes you from direct contact with those whiny, demanding clients.


There are three things that keep Psychotherapy from becoming a worthwhile profession. They are: the pseudo‑scientific system of training; the potential shrinks who present themselves for this training; and the clients who indiscriminately patronize these “helpers” who seem mostly to help themselves.

The ability to read someone's vibes, to detect phoniness and the lurking, evil glint of psychotic madness, is to some extent an inborn skill. You got it or you don't; and as with learning to draw or sculpt or play music, natural abilities can be enhanced (or disfigured) but not created out of nothing. Contemporary psychology, determined as it is to assert its full status as a Science rather than a mere Art, refuses to acknowledge this. Thus it shuns its proper — and do‑able — task of weeding out the deadheads and fine‑tuning the naturals, instead opting to teach all and sundry a rigid and largely ineffective psychometric technology.

A true Art of psychotherapy would put much more emphasis by selection of both shrinks and shrinkees, use a more pragmatic and practical teaching approach, and critically evaluate results strictly on the basis of clinical effectiveness. Currently most therapists are credentialed on the basis of academic achievement (e.g. passing classes, writing these, etc.) and evaluated just once in their careers — at licensing time — by their score on a written test. Existing technology would permit performance‑based testing, but the gatekeepers of The Profession are painfully aware that the majority of its established, credentialed, high‑ranking practitioners could not pass such an exam.

Then there is the question of who wants to become a shrink, and why. I described my own frankly self‑interested motives above. They may seem mercenary or tangential, but people whose primary drive is to Help are usually lousy therapists, ranging from merely ineffectual to actively destructive. I call them the “Helping Vampires.” They long to rescue the world, to bond with the confused and downtrodden, to straighten out the disordered lives of their hapless clients by their own sage advice and moral vigor. Crazies often really cotton to them, which sometimes gives them a deceptive aura of competence; but they mostly exacerbate their helpee's symptoms until they blow up, at which point the Helping Vampire dumps them on a competent colleague or into whatever safety net offers itself.

Finally, there are the clients. Some are people in crisis, briefly disoriented and wanting help to get back on an even keel but basically sound. Motivated and competent, they are easy to work with, quickly identify and resolve the issues that brought them to therapy, and move on.

Most clients, however, are chronically afflicted long‑term neurotics who only want an hour to complain and carp without fear of contradiction. They will pay for this; most of them have to, as their friends certainly won't listen to this stuff for free. They seem to have no center, let alone any central issues, and are content to stay “In Therapy” indefinitely.

Thus these chronics and lifers naturally tend to dominate the market by lingering in it forever, while the acute‑crisis short‑termers pass swiftly through it. Mediocre therapists soon learn to cultivate clients who can be sold on endless re‑living of early experiences and Healing the Inner Child.

Sigmund Freud, the great Viennese inventor of “the talking cure,” would be horrified by contemporary professional psychology as practiced in the U.S. Even in the '30s, he damned the easy‑minded blandness of American psychiatry.

But contemporary psychoanalysts, the direct descendants of Freud, are just as kooky; what's more, they're generally politically conservative, impossibly rigid and frankly exploitative. True psychoanalysis requires at least five years of meeting three times a week. It could take more if you express too much “resistance.” To be admitted to the official psychoanalytic society, you must have successfully completed analysis with someone who was shrunk himself in direct link back to Freud himself, as if this conferred some spiritual or mystical immunity upon the shrinkee.

If this requirement is consciously based upon the “touch of Peter” (whereby each new pope is sworn in by a cardinal who was sworn in by a pope, etc., in a direct line back to St. Peter, the founder of the Vatican's authority), it is horrifyingly reactionary. And if it's not, you have to wonder how such insightful introspectors as the successors to Freud could have overlooked the similarity. In any case, such requirements reflect superstitious and magical thinking admixed with a blatant self‑interest.


The U.S. has more shrinks per capita (depending on how you define the term: I'm counting everyone who claims to provide “counseling”) than any other country. Psychotherapy is far less common in Europe, even less popular in Latin America, and almost unheard of in Africa and Asia.

Thus, everywhere outside of North America and Western Europe, the role of “counselor” is taken by family or spiritual advisors, paid or otherwise. North America needs more shrinks because it has so much less emotional infrastructure.

Lacking meaningful relationships with those around them, many people vainly seek attachment and identity in unusual and rather unpromising places. Thus churches, cults and counselors flourish. Just as much of our processed, packaged supermarket food is so drained of genuine nutritive value as it travels from its source to the market that it needs to have vitamins and minerals re‑added, so are our lives drained of meaning by our processing until many are driven to seek re‑injections of Meaning via Therapy.

According to the research done by scientists attempting to verify the benefits of psychotherapy, it is the least cost‑efficient of all possible alternatives. Drugs are cheaper (and work faster). Daily exercise regulates the mood better than the “talking cure” (and treats “excess” weight more efficiently than any professional weight‑loss program). Taking up a hobby, getting a new sex partner, changing jobs: all of these are far more likely to improve your quality of life in less time and at lower cost than it takes to have your head shrunk.

Psychotherapy makes the most sense for someone in crisis or transition. By definition, “crisis” can only last so long, and even “transition” is something that should occur within a few months. Anyone who has been “in therapy” for years should frankly ask themselves what they have gotten in return for the hundreds of hours of talking and the thousands of dollars spent.

Good therapy should produce change. Yet most clients are actually seeking to avoid change, to continue living the way they are but to somehow stop hurting. Their jobs drive them crazy, so they consider taking Prozac or talking with you for an hour every week. But the best thing they could do, probably, is change jobs. This is usually one of the last things they're willing to consider. Instead, they want a quick fix that allows them to change as little as possible.

This is even more obvious when “treating” the number‑one psychotherapeutic complaint: “Bad” relationships or dysfunctional families. Is your partner: addicted, abusive, asexual, indifferent, cruel, neglectful, insensitive, stupid, lazy, evil, dishonest, and/or no fun to be with? Well, then, leave the bum! Is that so difficult to figure out? Should conveying that really take more than a few sessions? But, but, but! they will stammer, and go on to explain why this isn't “possible”.

Their problem is a dysfunctional relationship. Yet instead of refusing to participate in it, they seek you out for another lopsided, dysfunctional relationship of a different sort. By piling one unbalanced relationship upon another, they hope to reach equilibrium. And that's exactly what they get, the perpetuation of a poor compromise that makes them miserable.

Why can't people just talk (for free) to their friends and partners? Because that is exactly what they seek to avoid. By restricting these revelations to a hired stranger one further alienates them, moves them away from their central issues. The rising popularity of long‑term psychotherapy is a symptom of declining emotional stability and increasing alienation. Like TV, it's a cure that makes the illness worse.

If families spent less time silently glued to their televisions, they might be able to support one another emotionally without sub‑contracting this chore to outsiders. If people lived in genuine groupings based on common interests, instead of being isolated in “nuclear” families by accident of birth, they could avoid much of the pain currently expressed, quietly, in the private chambers of psychotherapists.

And, finally and most importantly, if people led meaningful lives in the first place instead of being yoked to pointless and painful careers performing worthless labor, perhaps they wouldn't suffer so much. As it stands, this pain merely justifies one more mostly meaningless profession: psychotherapy.

—Kwazee Wabbit

Fast learner

Fiction by RL Tripp.

Fast Learner
Now, what's that in hexadecimal?”

“Um...” Luis managed, his face contorted with a mix of consternation and concentration.

“You remember hexadecimal, don't you?”

“Get real, man!” he shot back, blushing with insulted pride.

“Well, where's the problem homes?”

A deeply introspective expression animated the pupil's face, and he opened his mouth to speak when the school bell rang. “Well, we'll try it again tomorrow,” the teacher said to the tattoo of Luis' sneakers as they carried Luis out of the classroom door and down the hall.

Bill sank into his worn oak swivel chair at the teacher's desk and emitted a sigh barely audible over the growing cacophony of students flooding the corridor at recess. He pushed his glasses up on his forehead with both fists and rubbed his slightly bloodshot and burning eyes.

“How's the master pedagogue this fine morning?” Tim's voice sounded in a practiced professional pitch intended to convey optimism and authority. Bill's delayed response reflected a lack of sleep caused by his latest affair. He hoped it came across as careful rumination.

“We seem to have hit another snag at memory blocks and hexadecimal,” he finally replied, adjusting his specs and eyeing the assistant principal's impeccably professional grooming. Tim's flawless coiffure and pressed, stylish shirt reminded Bill that he had not showered in five days, but at least he hopefully camouflaged his funk in sufficient deodorant, cologne and clean clothes. Bill's hygiene suffered from the time‑consuming nightly hedonism with Wild Donna.

“We may have to try another tack with Luis,” Bill offered. Tim's left eyebrow arched in inquiring anticipation. Bill's renewed eye‑rubbing bought him more time as he recalled the strategy he was using in Luis' teaching. “Let's go grab some coffee in the lounge while we discuss this,” Bill said. “Sounds good to me,” Tim replied.

Bill shovelled some papers into his briefcase and slung it under his arm. As the two teachers headed down the hall toward the lounge, Bill began to discuss his strategy. “I've reached a plateau in the effectiveness of the transdermals at this stage,” he began, referring to the devil's brew of methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, and Du Pont TA‑437 he administered to Luis every morning before classes. “TA” stood for “teaching agent,” one of the family of new compounds being used to enhance involuntary absorption of information presented in an educational setting.

“I think adding the stimulator at this point will speed us over this hurdle,” he continued. The stimulator was an electronic teaching aid that could be plugged into the surgically implanted jack located at the intersection of Luis' spinal column and skull. The device could be switched to various intensity settings for either positive or negative reinforcement. NeuroTek, the IBM and Eli Lilly consortium which developed and marketed the fantastically popular and profitable device, disavowed the popular notion that it operated on the crude but effective principles of pleasure and pain, since it had no outward physical effects. However, the facial expressions of someone under its influence told an altogether different story. Nonetheless, its dramatic impact on various behavior modification industries from penology to pedagogy overwhelmed the objections of its moralistic detractors.

Bill nervously fingered the stimulator jack behind his left ear as he brought the topic up. When he acquired his implant, the stimulator was still a relatively experimental device, and its application was strictly controlled by laws requiring that its use be totally voluntary. Bill attributed his attainment of both a Ph.D. in behavioral neurology and an M.D. within 3 years to its judicious self‑application. His success made it much easier for him to accept its increasingly widespread involuntary application in teaching and behavior modification.

“So the regular rewards and demerits aren't enough together with the transdermals to jump this hurdle in your opinion?” Tim asked.

“Well, it's not a matter of their inability to influence the lad's progress,” Bill replied. “It's more a matter of the time constraints we have in this project. As you well know, Luis' corporate sponsor has awarded us with his contract on the condition of some pretty specific goals that we have to attain by the time he's 18.”

“What were they again? They expect him to become one of their chief systems design experts by then — or something like that?”

“Well, without getting bogged down in specifics, we've agreed to train him to the level of a double — no, actually a triple Ph.D. by the time the contract runs out when he's 18.”

“So that gives us, what, six more years?” “Five and a half, actually. But because his parents contracted with us to take over, and because of the leeway we're granted by the Federal Exceptional Pupils Development Act, we can concentrate on his training without a lot of childhood ephemera making demands on his time,” Bill replied as they reached the coffee counter in the teachers' lounge.

“No teaching tricks to puppy dogs, no newspaper routes, and no teenage lust getting in the way, eh?” “With a child of Luis' exceptional potential, such trivial childhood activities would be an incredible waste of developmental potential. Frankly, they'd run counter to the imperative of speeding up his development toward a precocious economic contribution.”

“Point well taken,” Tim replied, pouring them both a mug of steaming coffee. “It's kids like Luis and teaching like this that'll enable us to regain all the ground we've lost to Japan economically.”

“With the subliminal motivation orientation we provide him during his sleep and daily video viewing, he'll never miss the crap most teenagers find indispensable to their happiness,” Bill continued. “Frankly, he's happy as a clam just striving to meet his instructional quotas. He's really living justification of the whole program. He was as happy mastering integral calculus as any average kid would be learning how to masturbate.” “Yes, Luis is quite an exceptional lad,” Tim said, nodding sagely.

Bill took a deep draught of his coffee and made a satisfied‑sounding sigh. He basked in Tim's appreciation of his student's abilities and felt the accolades reflected positively on his own accomplishments as Luis' mentor. The retainer paid by Luis' future employer added significantly to the school's financial viability, and Bill felt their investment would pay off handsomely in the research and development department. Bill also felt good about enabling Luis to have such a great head start in his career.

“Well, I've got to be getting back to work, recess is almost over,” Bill said, draining his mug. After setting it on a tray in front of the dishwashing room, he headed out the door with a friendly nod toward Tim.

Dusk had settled over the campus by the time Bill had finished the administrative paperwork and headed across the shady grove of eucalyptus trees toward his car. A twig snapped behind him, and before he could react, two sets of arms grabbed him from behind. A plug violently snapped into his stimulator jack, and someone stepped out from behind a tree trunk in front of him and drenched his face with fluid.

Blinking drops from his eyes, Bill focused on Luis holding an empty jar of transdermal solution. Bill jerked involuntarily as the stimulator was cranked to maximum negative reinforcement.

“On your knees, asshole! We're going to teach you some tricks!” Luis crowed, waving the stimulator's control. As his knees began to buckle, Bill gasped in admiration. “Christ, these kids learn fast!”

--R.L. Tripp

Fat lot of good it did me!

Dolores Job on her education.

Before I'd even gotten through my first “Dick and Jane” saga, I was being firmly nudged in the direction of college. “With a college degree you'll be set for life,” my working‑class parents constantly intoned, as if they could seal my fate by sheer repetition of the phrase. Although they had never experienced such higher‑educational wonders first‑hand, they firmly believed in the first tenet of American Progress—a college education guarantees “the good life”—even if their faith in Catholic dogma had gotten a little shaky.

To set me on course towards the American Dream realized, my parents enrolled me in the local parochial schools for their strict discipline and purported academic excellence. Although most “publics” shudder at the thought, Catholic education does have its pluses: learning how to follow orders unquestioningly, brown‑nose authority figures shamelessly, tolerate oppressive conditions and absurd rules, maintain a cool head while evading said rules, and lie so convincingly you even begin believing your own Reaganesque whoppers—all invaluable in the workplace.

You can imagine my future shock at my college dorm‑mates' descriptions of their “Open School” experiences, which to my parochial ears sounded like some new form of child abuse. I couldn't understand how an education featuring such indulgence and laxity could do anything but set my tender classmates up for a life of frustration, failure, and bitter disappointment. Unhampered self‑expression? What nonsense! My education had posed no such hazards.

As an added plus, the thoughtful Catholic school student develops an amazing capacity to view even the most petrified and all‑encompassing belief systems with a heaping helping of skepticism. To this day I relish mentally demolishing sacred cows.

My radical skepticism was considerably enhanced after I ran across a dusty two‑volume set of biographies of great men and women in the elementary school library. Not one to let my schooling interfere with my education, I always kept a good book on hand to get me through the more boring classroom bullshit. However, the revelations in those two volumes generated more excitement than I'd bargained for.

For one thing, their author had the audacity to suggest that Saint Joan of Arc wasn't really a saint at all but a nut case, and that the great Queen Cleopatra of Egypt was, in the parlance of my elders, a “nigger!” Of particular interest was the section on Karl Marx, which made the social system advocated by the original Godless Communist sound suspiciously like the early Christian lifestyle our religion text kept praising to high heaven. Moreover, to a miner's daughter, this brief introduction to Marxist economic theory was akin to first noticing in a lifetime in coal country that coal is black.

Unfortunately, my new‑found appreciation of Marxism led me to vote for the Communist Party presidential candidate in the eighth‑grade mock election, a faux pas which understandably generated the mother of all lectures from our black‑gabardine‑shrouded keeper. Mercifully, because the voting was anonymous, her outrage was directed at the kids in my row of desks in general instead of myself in particular.

I never bothered to formally check those magical tomes out of the library since this might have attracted the attention of the nuns, who would have speedily yanked them off the shelf if they had even the slightest clue as to their contents. For all I know, those books are still there, patiently waiting to corrupt another hungry young mind.

My new class consciousness was to be rapidly obliterated after my matriculation at the local Catholic high school, where Time magazine was as subversive as the library got. Time was then singing the praises of something called “supply‑side economics.” What a revelation! I'd never before realized that giving obscenely wealthy people a lot more money could work such wonders for the likes of me. Being cured of this delusion in due time did have its plus side: after realizing that the supply‑siders' “unseen hand” made a great Three‑card Monte dealer, I developed a healthy skepticism for the printed word.

In the meantime, my faith in the superiority of Catholic education received a serious jolt when I learned that the local public high school had quite a few of those new wonder machines called computers, whereas we had none. As a result, I began to shop around for colleges outside the Catholic ghetto. On a visit to a well‑regarded nearby university, I received some invaluable assistance from a black Barbadoan grad student in navigating the rough seas of higher‑education planning. Before I left, he gave me one last word of advice: “For most people, education can be a double‑edged sword: it teaches you to value a lifestyle you'll be hard‑pressed to ever live.” Faced with the choice between four years of college and working as a payroll clerk in my overbearing mother's office, I dutifully ignored this advice and decided to go for the sheepskin. “After all,” I reasoned, “I ain't got nothin' better to do.”

After my near‑perfect grades and brown‑nosing ability won me a scholarship to a prestigious Quaker‑founded liberal arts college, I was sure I was well on my way to “the good life.” My parish priest was equally sure my soul was well on its way to hell. Little did Father Mac realize that the heavy dose of morality I received under his auspices (reinforced by assurances that the slightest misstep jabbed poor Jesus' sacred heart like a stiletto) would be fully reinforced at Swatmore College. However, Swatmore's heavy emphasis on educating students to busy themselves promoting “social justice” would prove a cruel disservice in the “real world.” For a contestant entering that rat race, enduring such well‑meaning brainwashing is much like paying to have your legs tied together before the starting bell sounds. Moreover, any genuine desire to do socially beneficial or even neutral work makes torment and frustration a sure bet. Fortunately, my matriculation at Swatmore, an intellectual pressure‑cooker notorious for student suicides, would postpone this agony with a more rarified one.

I entered my first English Literature class by default, since the best classes were all filled before I got a clue about how the byzantine course registration system operated. The default course left me a little cold, but as a budding fiction writer, I wanted to get an early start on my all‑important Literature Degree, so I took what I could get.

The class started out entertainingly enough with the professor leading us in an analysis of several bawdy medieval limericks. But after cranking out several well‑thought‑out term papers on more complex works and being rewarded with several D's and F's, I soon realized that my evaluator didn't give a pounding butter churn about what I honestly thought the authors were trying to convey. Being a dirty old Freudian, he wanted smut. Being dependent on federal grants that were collectable for a maximum of 4 years (those days are gone forever!), I soon realized I'd better give the guy what he wanted or risk remedial education I couldn't underwrite. So for my next term paper topic, I selected the sweetest little sonnet I could find—and proceeded to read as much raw, unbridled lust into it as humanly possible. By the time I finished analyzing that dewey violet straining to grow uphill, it had been transformed into a gushing priapus of epic proportions.

Although driven to this new tactic by desperation, I doubted whether the professor would fall for it. I even worried he'd interpret my effort as a sarcastic slight against his analytical proclivities. Not to worry: he not only took the bait, he relished it. I got my first A, and from then on even my most lukewarm efforts were graded kindly. What's more, I had learned my most important higher‑education lesson: screw intellectual honesty! If you want to bag your degree before you're 30, figure out what the professor wants and then give it to him—preferably on a silver platter.

Distorting the classics in the funhouse mirror of academic criticism took all the fun out of studying them. So, having learned it's better to join a Freudian than fight him, I decided to skip the literature major in favor of psychology. This was a particularly easy choice when, watching me agonize over my decision, my advisor impatiently assured me that “It doesn't matter what you major in; it'll probably have nothing whatsoever to do with what you do after you graduate.” Fortunately, my advisor's failure to help me hash out a study plan relevant to my needs, circumstances, and goals would be offset by a physiological psychology professor's desire to make the college look good by pushing his students into research.

As a psych major, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to read deep‑seated pathology into every last eyebrow twitch of my fellow classmates (particularly the really snobby ones), but I was dismayed by the contentious subjectivity of it all. For every purportedly comprehensive theory, there seemed to be an equal and opposite competing theory [see Confessions of An Atheist Priest]. In contrast, biology had an appealing objectivity. As a result, I was blown away by my first course in physiological psychology, taught by a charismatic, encouraging professor who prided himself on seeding future research mavens with every cross‑campus stroll.

When Professor Oppenheim accepted me into his senior seminar and lab practicum, I was thrilled beyond words. Soon he was encouraging me to look into graduate programs and voicing his concern that the word “social” was appearing much too frequently in the titles of my senior course selections.

One such selection was a senior seminar in social and political philosophy taught by a macho aficionado of the cult of the strenuous intellect. He employed something he called the “pseudo‑Socratic method,” a teaching technique based heavily on public humiliation. Whenever a student expressed even the most tentative opinion, Professor Schuldenliess would verbally beat her down so hard that she'd become a petrified mute and accept everything he said as Gospel. Although this experience did little to boost my self‑confidence as I gingerly prepared to face the “real world,” it did provide me with an invaluable lesson in the true nature of the participatory classroom. Unfortunately, Professor Schuldenliess never did get a clue as to why class participation fell off so abruptly so soon after the semester began, leaving him to pretty much carry the discussion himself. Thankfully, his constant carping about over‑paid administrators eventually earned him a sinecure far from the grubby realities of classroom teaching.

Meanwhile, back in the lab, my research efforts were coming to fruition just as grad school application deadlines began rearing their ugly heads. But the more absorbed I became in puzzling out the mysteries of sleep, the more my own sleep was disturbed by vivid nightmares in which my beloved professor had secretly recruited me into an experiment involving hefty injections of grotesque parasites.

Then too, I started having second and third thoughts about the value of our research, particularly considering the torment I was being asked to inflict on my scaly‑tailed friends in the lab. The human brain was a lot more complicated than I'd suspected after acing the introductory course, and I was beginning to wonder whether frying a rat's frontal lobes could realistically be expected to shed light on the subject. Plus I had a tendency to laugh hysterically while juicing the rats' electrodes, more out of nervous tension than sadistic joy—although I was beginning to wonder about the psychic calluses forming on my own mind.

On the train back to campus after vacation, I tried talking out my concerns with my lab partner: “Don't you worry that one day you might discover something really important about the brain that'll be used by some Orwellian government agency to really screw people up—and it'll be all your fault? Look at Einstein. All he wanted to do was understand how the universe worked, and they took what he learned and built the atomic bomb.” Wiggling his nose like one of our charges, my partner replied, “I don't have to get worked up about the ethics of stuff—I'm a pre‑med. And thanks a lot—you just made me miss my stop.”

I would not have to ponder such possibilities for long, as a dearth of funding put grad school quite out of my reach. As I began scanning the classifieds and grimly noting the rent I'd have to pay, the jobs I'd be qualified for, and the salary I'd earn, I soon realized I was facing a different nightmare altogether.

After spending a few months after graduation and my meager savings attempting to avoid the inevitable, I accepted a part‑time secretarial job in the P.R. office of my alma mater's nearby clone. You can imagine the enthusiasm with which I executed my duties considering the fine career opportunities I had to choose from after earning my precious degree. Twenty hours a week, $4.50 an hour, no benefits—and this was the pick of the litter. With such a windfall, I was able to move in with a maiden cousin who lived in a run‑down suburb near an abandoned quarry. Nothing like a college degree to set you up for life.

It soon hit me that there really was no socially meaningful and personally rewarding vocational slot out there for me, prestigious degree or no. Most of the employers I spoke to were mostly concerned with how fast I typed‑‑fortunately, pretty fast. Several years of odious editorial work interspersed with welcome stints of poorly subsidized unemployment got me a writing job in the P.R. office of a nearby mediocre university known for cooperative education. Along with a priestly salary in the high teens and full benefits, I could get myself a free night‑school graduate education as well. Since the rent had to be paid and nothing better presented itself, I took what I could get.

Although most of the job involved cranking out press releases on award‑winning buck‑toothed students for hometown newspapers, things occasionally got more interesting. Sometimes we got to write about faculty research. Making basic research on the sex life of some fungus sound like it holds the cure for cancer was challenging, particularly considering that because the faculty believed we flacks and our stupid projects were worthless, their cooperation was nil. However, they did find it worthwhile to fight tooth and nail against our attempts to make their research sound more relevant than it actually was.

For instance, after being assigned to write a university magazine article explaining how a senior faculty member's research was going to save us all from the greenhouse effect, I learned he didn't really believe the greenhouse effect posed much of a problem. Mercifully, the university ran out of publication money before my Sisyphean effort to reconcile these two facts could be stamped on glossy stock for posterity.

Reporting on a statistician's discovery of “an association in the female population between working and committing homicide” was another battle of the wills. “You're trying to make it sound like one causes the other. Correlation is not causation,” she chided. “I've got a crowbar in my car that'd argue otherwise,” I muttered through clenched teeth after leaving her office to start my umpteenth revision.

Of course, it wasn't always that hard to make the university's activities sound relevant. For instance, although I was a strong supporter of the nuclear freeze movement, I was asked to acclaim the honorary degree the university had awarded the nearby General Electric plant's president. This plant cranked out “reentry vehicles”—nuclear missile bodies—with the help of our many engineering graduates. (Those few graduates with enough social conscience to detest “defense” work complained bitterly about the lack of engineering jobs in non‑mayhem‑related fields.) Since I'd just been scolded for consistent lateness, I couldn't really decline the assignment, but my finished product was less than glowing.

Shortly thereafter, I was assigned to write about an alumnus who'd been recognized for “outstanding contributions to his field.” This field was logistics. Our department manager didn't know logistics from statistics, but he did know that former students getting national awards make the university look good. Unfortunately, one of our current students had just been arrested for trying to smuggle a respectable cache of weapons out of the country, creating considerable embarrassment for the university. After I pointed out that “logistics” is the science of weapons procurement and transport, and that publicizing such an award might further contribute to the university's new‑found reputation as a hot‑bed of bomb‑crazed nuts, our department head decided to bury the announcement on the last page of our most boring newsletter.

Such workaday distractions were counterbalanced by the nightly distractions of graduate school. Although some of the class work was worthwhile, most of it was a miniature version of what I was expected to do all day at the office and could practically do in my sleep (and often did). After realizing that the university's reputation for lameness might make my degree a feeble door‑opener, I decided to stop wasting my time. I quit to realize the “California Dream,” which I found much like the “American Dream,” only with earthquakes and higher taxes.

Of course my family did hint that life might not be all peaches and cream no matter how much education I got. My depression‑era father had always stressed that bank accounts and regular paychecks could evaporate at any time. An organic gardener before ecology made it big‑time, he stressed the importance of being as self‑sufficient as possible and showed me how to pick teaberries and snack on birch bark in the nearby woods. “You'll eat anything if you're hungry enough,” he explained.

After a lifetime of working with dynamite in all kinds of weather, Daddy was rewarded with a fatal heart attack before retirement ever came in sight. Development is now fast encroaching on our old foraging grounds, and even the deer are finding free goodies hard to come by. Today, after all those hours in the classroom, it's finally dawned on me that I let one major free goodie slip right by. I was slated to inherit Daddy's lakeside cabin when I turned 21, but owing to other people's greed and negligence and my own lack of resources and legal moxie, I have yet to obtain this crucial buffer between myself and complete dependence on a paycheck. “Pursuing Your Legal Rights” was one course I was never offered in school—and for that matter neither was “Coping with Your Leeching Landlord.”

After 16+ years of formal education, during which time I never set foot in a public school or cheated on a test, I am now conversant with the structure and function of DNA, the color theories of the Impressionists, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and many other fascinating concepts I can entertain myself with while feeding the office xerox machine. I do not know how to build or maintain my own home, grow my own food, produce my own energy, or sew my own clothes—basic skills my grandparents took for granted. Everything I need to survive must be earned by suffering endless indignities in exchange for a paycheck that could be cut off at any moment. The job market and the system it feeds could care less about my well‑being, but without them, I'm a fish out of water. This is progress?

I recently found an interesting, worthwhile job doing medical library research for people with health problems. Unfortunately, it offered a skimpy wage and no benefits, and I couldn't accept having basic medical care remain just outside my do‑gooding reach. So now I'm earning a reasonable wage and full benefits by editing half‑assed medical articles for an odious HMO that jerks its patients around like a three‑year‑old with a new puppy on a short leash. Has my hyperliteracy finally paid off? Well, I now make the same damn yearly wage as an old college friend who managed to reach sophomore status before dropping out. By the way, this college friend happens to be male.

Be that as it may, by any stretch of the imagination I'd be considered middle class, so I guess my precious degree did vaunt me out of the socioeconomic lower depths. But working class or no, I'm still a working stiff. The basic intolerability and insecurity of this situation has convinced me there's gotta be a better way. As we go to press, I'm still working on it. If I manage to construct an escape hatch to the periphery of a system that's at best indifferent to our needs and desires and at worst death‑dealing, you'll be the first to know. In the meantime, I'll take what I can get, and get away with as much as I possibly can. At least I've learned to appreciate the limitations of a good education.

—Dolores Job

High cost of sleep

Fiction by Greg Evans.

The High Cost of Sleep
So tired, so very tired. Even having trouble thinking clearly. But now, at last, a lucid moment: “We must not allow this,” I kept telling them, “and if that means taking it to the streets, so be it.” Unfortunately, they didn't listen, and I'm too exhausted to continue. If I could only...only... What was I going to say? Oh yeah, sleep. Hah! Now that is funny. Takes me back, too. When was that, five years ago or six? Back when it was free. Probably about the only thing that still was, which made its regulation by “the overpowering force of the marketplace” inevitable. Everything else was big business, after all — from sex to air fresheners.

Suddenly I'm marching down a street with thousands of people. They seem to be chanting something like, “Sleep for rest, not for profit.” What was I doing there? Of course, I was there to protest, too. In fact, as I recall, I helped organize the whole thing — and what a success it was! All those people, unified and angry. And for good reason. It was, after all, such an outrageous idea, or at least it seemed to be until the government launched its counterattack. However, by the time the hack ministers, pseudocommissions, and media surrogates finished flooding the public with “study” results and misinformation about the scheme's purported advantages, a lot of them actually started to believe in it.

My thoughts drift slowly toward relaxation, raising my hopes. Sleep seems to be coming...wonderful sleep...blissful nothingness...I can just begin to feel it...trying to get in around the edges...but, no, it's not to be. Damn it, this is really awful. Now where was I? Ah yes, all those people falling for the government line. How could they have been so stupid! But the government promised jobs, economic growth — and who can argue with that? Certainly not me, although I tried. “Dignity!” I cried, “we must have dignity!” “Jobs!” they cried back, “we must have jobs!” Strange thing was, there weren't even that many jobs to be had from it, what with automation. But times were tough and people will take what they can get.

A faint, mournful dirge is coming from my living room. I've been hearing a lot of strange things recently, so I only allow myself to be distracted by it briefly. So, what tactic did we try next? Well, we compared the enterprise to a tax. That worked better, but in the wrong way. “The rich must pay more,” cried one side. “An hour's sleep is an hour's sleep, whether you're rich or poor, ” the other responded. The debate became so rancorous it threatened to undo the whole scheme. Cursing my fading memory, I have to ask myself why it didn't. Several more moments reflection provide the answer: we were outmaneuvered by the government's proposal for a “Guaranteed Social Minimum.” With that single stroke, they defused a raucous mob, turned it into a genteel cheering section, and earned accolades from the populists for standing up to the rich. My last card? “It's unholy to interfere with our sleep!” It triggered great theological debates, but in a secular society, those debates have little impact; they certainly didn't in this case.

Now wait a second — what's happening? The dirge has grown quite loud. There are people marching right in front of me. They seem quite happy, judging by the smiles on their faces, even if their dirge remains grimly somber. And quite a cross‑section of people they are too — white‑collar, blue‑collar, even the clergy — all, it seems, except the poor. None takes any notice of me as they pass by, which is something of a relief. At least they haven't come for me.

For a few seconds I try to figure out how they got into my apartment. When they pass through the wall on their way out, I have my answer —it was a hallucination. They say when you can't sleep, you start to dream while you're awake — and they're right. How long has it been now? Two and a half days. That's, let's see, how many hours? One is 24, so two Half of that again comes to 50. No, that's not right. Why can't I think? Sixty, it comes to 60. Sixty hours without sleep! Must be some kind of record.

A scientist materializes in front of me. He's wearing a white lab coat and steel rimmed glasses, and he has a thick accent. “Ve haff develupt a cheemekul dat keepz you from sleepink,” he says proudly, holding up a test tube filled with clear liquid. He then picks up a vial of pills and adds “Unless you take theess.” He starts detailing how the chemical interferes with the functioning of the hypothalamus and the sleep cycle, but before I can ask him any questions, he's replaced by a bearded man in a wrinkled suit. Puffing on a pipe, he asserts that adding the chemical to the water supply could create a vast new pharmaceutical industry; charging “x” amount of money for each pill (that is, for each hour's sleep) would generate “y” amount of profits and “z” amount of reinvestment. He starts babbling about growth curves, elasticity of demand, job markets. As I start to object, he too dissolves. I find myself talking to a policeman who intends to arrest anybody distributing untreated water. “To hell with you!” I yell at him. He starts laughing. “Sleep well,” he sneers as he fades out.

At least for the moment nobody takes his place. A cold shower might not only keep him from coming back, but wake me up enough to figure out what to do. Before I can act on this impulse, my mind wanders back to the first night I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned, but nothing approaching sleep ever came. Yesterday, I went to the doctor. She said I was fine—at least physically—and she prescribed some medication. It didn't help. I went to the customer service center this morning. They checked my file. Everything was in order. They explained that they can only stop me from sleeping, not make me sleep when I can't, but I was getting suspicious. I went to some of my friends, the ones in high places. Too high, as it turned out. They had pushed the hardest for a Guaranteed Social Minimum (“GSM”) of 5 pills a night, which made them popular and influential. None was interested in rocking the boat, especially for somebody who'd continued to agitate against the whole scheme long after it had become unfashionable to do so. Besides, with the GSM firmly in place, such deprivation was impossible, they explained. When I suggested that I was deliberately being given placebos, they just accused me of being paranoid. “See a doctor,” they suggested. I told them I had. “Try a different one,” they said. I did. And still no sleep...

I'm hearing a voice now, a familiar voice. It's mine. It's asking me how long I can live without sleep. I tell myself I don't know. From the way I'm feeling, not too long. How long is “not too long”? A day or two at most.

A walk, maybe I'll take a walk. Fresh air sounds better than a cold shower. Can I walk? Yes I can, though not very steadily. Well enough to get me outside, though. Now which way should I go? This way, I think. God, I feel so awful! If I cross this street here, I'll be at the park. That should be a good place to... Good grief! What's coming toward me? It's sure making a funny noise...

“James Russell, political activist and social critic, was killed in an automobile accident last night on Bellevue Street. Russell, 43, died instantly when he stepped into the street against the traffic light and was struck by an oncoming car.”

—Greg Evans

graphic, above by JR Swanson

Making stoopid

Mickey D's critique of the school system, for Processed World magazine.

Every young person is required by law to suffer the best hours of the day trapped in an ugly, overcrowded room, facing front and listening to a frustrated civil servant. The teacher probably knows that school is a waste of time but needs the paycheck and can't find work elsewhere. He or she answers to the principal who is subordinate to the superintendent who in turn is subordinate to the District. The alleged beneficiary of this process, the student, is at the bottom of a long chain of command, relegated within a hierarchy of classes and grades and tracks within grades. The student learns that he or she is an isolated object in an undifferentiated mass whose own intellectual, social, or sensual interests are irrelevant and disruptive.
Schools indoctrinate that life is by necessity routine, impersonal and boring; that one's best interest is to shut up and conform; that spontaneity, creativity and free thought are to be regarded with suspicion and hostility. Gutlessness and apathy are rewarded while independent initiative is deterred by fear of failure and the prospect of punishment.

Schools emphasize students' relationships with adult authorities while devaluing peer relationships. However, the crowding and rigid scheduling allow for little personal contact between students and teachers. Social contact between adults and children outside of the family is rare and suffused with sexual anxiety. A student gets individual attention only through being disobedient; by the time the school shrink or guidance counselor meets with the student, he or she's been written off as incorrigible.

Even when the classroom isn't overcrowded, individual engagement with the lessons is undermined by the machine‑like structure of the learning process. Lessons are largely handed down by an invisible bureaucracy. Instruction is programmed to shape acceptable responses according to a predetermined goal — passing tests. The academic material itself is a kind of trivia with planned obsolescence, to be consumed and thrown away after its function is served.

Schools serve the state and dominant institutional values by promoting myths about history, politics, science, and in fact, every subject they teach. Schools do their best to present a uniform worldview and exclude alternatives. To get any real education, one has to unlearn nearly everything school teaches in the first place! However, few people emerge from school with confidence intact in their own learning abilities. Fear of the hostile alien world outside of us diminishes our belief in our own feelings and experiences and induces chronic anxiety. Ultimately, many cling to the established worldview for some (false) security.

School routines are even more important than the curriculum in inculcating obedience and conformity. Permission is required for the relief of bodily needs, accompanied by a hall pass. Attendance is mandatory for 12 years and constantly monitored. Ringing bells signal rigidly scheduled periods. The school grounds can't be left during the day, and the outside world is patrolled by truancy officers. School follows the student home as homework, preparing for a life of continuous work. Play is routinized under adult surveillance into recess and students are traumatized with gym class, which can easily mean pubescent military training at the hands of a sadist.

School circumscribes the experience of being young, taking over many of the social functions of the extended family while serving as an agency of military and industrial recruitment. Extended schooling prolongs the process of socialization and training well into adulthood. “Maturity” is defined as accommodation to and acceptance of an irrational and destructive social order.

Ubiquitous propaganda urges young people to stay in school, usually featuring media‑appointed role models like Magic Johnson or Spike Lee. An army of academic experts blame high drop‑out rates on backgrounds of poverty, cultural characteristics, family and emotional problems, etc. “No school, no job,” they warn. Middle‑class status and salaries come from diplomas; the remedy for poverty is more schooling. And that has become absurdly true! Even service jobs that take five minutes to learn require diplomas because schools certify punctuality and obedience. Successful schooling indicates tolerance for monotony and accommodation to the prevailing hierarchies of society.

Education also serves as a warning to potential employers about “over‑qualification.” A B.A. from a liberal arts college indicates surplus education. This is a growing phenomenon in a society with less and less need for talent and ambition and more need for robotized service workers.

Whatever learning occurs in schools is, at best, incidental to the aims and functions of the school system. Education does not create enthusiasm for learning, enrich our experience of growing up or give us confidence to exercise democratic initiative. It fosters cynicism and political withdrawal.

The rise of public schooling beyond the sixth grade in the late 19th century coincided with the abolition of child labor from the factories, where they had done the most dangerous and arduous tasks. “Progressive” reformers saw that the long‑range requirements of industry demanded a technically literate workforce; even unskilled lathe operators needed to read blueprints and do fractions. Today literacy is less necessary for the maintenance of industrial production and the clerical system. Numerical control, cybernation, pictograms, telephones, dictaphones, etc. have rendered the printed word increasingly obsolete in sectors of the economy with high job growth, i.e. retail, food service, etc. Yet barebones literacy remains a justification for mandatory schooling.

If children were taught basic language acquisition in the classroom it is doubtful anybody would be able to speak at all. Schools teach literacy by way of mechanical conditioning and repetition geared toward test‑passing — a sure technique for inhibiting free expression and understanding. No wonder so few emerge from school who enjoy reading; fewer still who value it as a means to enlightened critical reasoning. The content of the reading material of the great majority — best sellers, newspapers, news magazines — is intellectually comparable to the shit on TV and radio.

Literacy is required so that people can distinguish between brand names and decipher headlines. It's possible that people would be less susceptible to propaganda campaigns if they weren't so literate; certainly the highest level of political indoctrination seems to occur among the highly literate readers of the New York Times and other “quality” media. Literacy should be a useful tool that can lend meaning to our imagination and experience — not a means of symbol manipulation for propagating top‑down decisions and advertisements.

From the inception of the education experience, students are subjected to a battery of hastily timed true/false and multiple‑choice tests. Such tests devalue speculative thought, which requires leisurely reflection and the possibility of arriving at conclusions that negate the presuppositions of the test‑makers. The intense pressure for information retention and punishment for failure hardly encourage free thinking.

Competitive testing and grading replicate the pressures of the job market. There are only a few prestigious jobs for the good test‑takers. For the weeded‑out majority, stupidity is a sensible reaction to the humiliation and embarrassment of the classroom. The deep‑seated anti‑intellectualism of American society surely has roots in the resentment and hostility to learning that school inculcates in its “failures.”

Popular views of intellectual achievement as elitism helps perpetuate the monopolization of educational resources by the privileged. However, ignorance of geography, basic political rights, lack of foreign languages, history, etc. is just as prevalent at elite institutions like Harvard or Princeton as in the general population. Far from counteracting ignorance, institutionalized learning threatens to bring about a new reign of universal cretinization.

Social reformers have long argued that education can solve all problems. After a decade of deterioration and neglect, hopes are high that a renewed commitment by the federal government to upgrading the schools will produce a workforce competitive with the U.S.'s main industrial rivals, Germany and Japan. This will supposedly curb the downward slide of living standards which is actually caused by the normal “healthy” expansion of the world market and capitalism. Mass education has been challenged at the level of public policy only by rightists of the William Bennett mentality who want to introduce free‑market mechanisms into the existing system as part of the general trend toward a two‑tiered society. But is the only alternative to privatization more useless training?

The current school “crisis” is largely one of its own making. Crisis is omnipresent in modern society; it's a way by which a small class of managers and professionals defines a problem to legitimize their continued control and insure the need for their expertise. This is an effective method of nullifying citizen involvement. Without a radical reconception of the role of education in society, the remedy “more is better” will only waste more money and resources and further fuck us up. A more practical approach might be to just give the money to poor children directly rather than channeling it through a school system that wastes most of it on middle‑class bureaucrats.

One of the great claims made of the American public education system is that it sometimes brings under its roofs the children of different backgrounds and classes. But even with a college diploma, a black graduate is unlikely to earn as much money as a white high school graduate. The myth of equality of opportunity through public schooling only impresses on people that their failure to rise beyond their parents' status is their own fault, for lack of intelligence or effort — not the system's failure.

Education is a big business. University campuses occupy a lot of valuable real estate, and like any business, obey an imperative to constantly expand, often at the expense of surrounding communities. Universities consume billions of taxpayer dollars for research and development while foundations and endowments linked to large corporations determine the goals and methods of research. Schools are gigantic markets for building contractors, text‑book companies, computer sales, labor unions, testing services, giant sports industries, inept custodial fiefdoms, (putrid) food franchises, etc. In constantly seeking to maximize “efficiency” and streamlining costs, administrators standardize their products and go where the money is — usually war research.

Before the GI Bill and the post‑war higher education boom, less than 50 percent of Americans graduated from high school, much less college. To an extent that is difficult to appreciate in our age of universal compulsory schooling, careers were learned by experience, self‑motivation, trial‑and‑error, and facing life head‑on. Not so long ago, for example, if one wanted to become a journalist, one hung around the local newspaper office and did errands, picking up the tools of the trade through immersion in the environment. Today, to get a foot in the door at a daily paper one must have a Master's degree in journalism — and the quality of journalism is more homogeneous and state‑controlled than ever before thanks to its professionalism.

In its role as a credential factory, the university insulates intellectual work from public affairs. Academics go for patronage and status at the expense of hyperspecialization, abstraction and increasingly rarefied jargon. As Russell Jacoby has written: “Universities not only monopolize intellectual life, they bankrupt independent producers. In an economy of $3 trillion, the means of support for non‑academic intellectuals relentlessly shrinks. Circles of intellectuals which existed or subsisted outside the university...belong to the past. Today even painters, dancers and novelists are usually affiliated with academic institutions.”

Schools are an essential component of the regimentation of the population to the national “needs” as defined by the profit system. Unqualified economic growth is axiomatic among the educated classes; to reject it is to operate outside the boundaries of permissable discourse as defined by academe, evidence of emotional or cultural backwardness.

Our productive capacity should render scarcity obsolete, eliminating poverty and improving life. Instead, innovation is wastefully harnessed to the development of weapons and new commodities that become all‑pervasive while de‑skilling people, making their increasingly mechanized and bureaucratic environment less and less comprehensible. Education turns out more PhDs and more experts to reinforce our sense of powerlessness.

The present school system produces some who find satisfying work, but the vast majority are forced to find their human self‑worth as consumers in a rat‑race of unnecessary toil devoted to destructive economic growth. The present school system obstructs our ability to participate in shaping the policies that affect our lives.

No single institution, like the monolithic school system programmed by a National Education Association, can prepare everybody for a social role. The current system needs to be decentralized, emphasizing other possibilities of educating, appropriate to various abilities, conditions and communities. We need to make our whole environment more educative rather than ghettoizing the concept of education in the schools, which amounts to little more than a system of social engineering for the corporations and the state.

“School” in Greek originally meant “serious leisure.” Young people went about the city of Athens meeting citizens and observing the different occupations and activities that took place. It would be infinitely better to let kids hang out and investigate society by themselves, especially if they have access to workplaces and homes where they could question the division of labor (manual vs. intellectual) and the distinction between work and play.

—Mickey D.


Poetry in Processed World #31.


For at least three dog years

We did shams

And rolled the half-pipe

On the grounds of the club at night.

By day things changed

King grand at a time.

Before long notes came due.

So for a fine price

She suckled them to sleep

On sweet milk of amnesia.

– Blair Ewing


They contrive havoc in the shipyard, every day,

We're just out here rolling, setting up

Three rounds and a sound.

Now they make us make our brothers

Step down, and down again.

Sonny Hammett from Fayette County:

You left a grieving widow, Judith

Tried to stop you.

You found Misters Abbott and Gabelt

In the Quality Control Office and

Punched a sightless, bloodshot eye

In their foreheads.

Just like Roger the Dodger used to say:

They're cooking up new recipes.

Some of you will float to the top

And some, like sludge, drift to the bottom.

And some will just evaporate

Carried off by the steam rising up

From the bowels of the bank.

Uncooperative radical particle I

Stick to my guns like glue.

Defensive readiness is at a very high premium.

If only they had marked us all

Not just one

We could play defense as a team

And all of us would be captains.

– Blair Ewing


These seem papers

singed by fire

—documents left scattered

in a hectic retreat of

battalion headquarters

or the abandoned records

of an overthrown regime

Fear and pain

shimmer over the disorganized pages

hover above the words scratched along the slots

lined onto the white surface

And rage

flares in the ink

deposited frantically here

It is anger that matches my own

knuckle to knuckle

as I read the words

as my red pen

descends toward its victims

toward what is written

Once more

I have failed

to convince, to inform

to teach

So I hold their fury
stacks of it
sheets of it
and press down on theirs
with my own

How did literature
become so filled
with hate?

Document your sources correctly

the red nib admonishes

You must provide examples

to show what you mean

The blue paragraphs



No one is listening

– Tom Wayman


Content with becoming unlike

the sea, he denies the past

and dust, puts in

long hours in an office. Yet

here, or nowhere, there are laws

chisels convinced stone of

and the storied mist,

beard of ancestor and beast. And what

but Where is Once or When?

would he expect them to demand

had they not as children known

whose fallen hand was raising them?

—Harry Brody


I'd like to apply for a job.

Yes, the job you have available;

my manner is most saleable

and I hope you'll find me suitable

for $5.15 an hour.

I really have the skills, you see,

I've been to university

and though I studied history

I've found my heart to truly be

in men's ties and socks/glass figurines/the discount shoe industry.

What makes me think I'd be good for this job?

um, I love working with people.

...and I love riding the subway an hour and a half each way;

let's see, add those hours to my day

and I'll be making a whopping $3.75 an hour!

oh, no — sir — I do want the job. Can't you tell by my suit?

No, actually, I don't own a dress;

I don't feel comfortable, I confess.

But hell,

for $5.15 an hour

I'll endeavor to wear some colors other than black—

um, I enjoy working with the public, and I'm good with money...

Oh yes, you're right

all us girls are good with money—

yes, that's charming, yes, how funny.

You know, I like a good work atmosphere

where the boss says whatever he wants

and the rest of us just listen...

I'm a very fast learner

and I promise that if you give me this job

I'll be the perfect subhuman

and never let my contempt shine in my worshipping eyes!

I love working with people,

and let's see — what else was I going to tell you?

No, I don't expect vacation pay

and yes, I'm available every day

and though I don't like the evil way

you're looking at me, I've got rent to pay.

And yes, I can start on Saturday.

—© Meryn Cadell 1991

from the Sire/Reprise album ANGEL FOOD FOR THOUGHT


Passing billboards that proclaim — “Working together

to stimulate economic growth and job creation,”

Hearing over the radio — “Factories in orbit

flourishing, healthy, growing,”

Reading in the paper — “Declining job market

for trained elephants spells trouble,”

The interviewer appears again before me —

“Gaps in your work-record,

gaps in your work-record,

don't look good to us, Mr. Antler —

you don't expect us to believe

all those years you wrote


What could I say? What did I say?

“We've come from a nation in which one-sixth were slaves

to a nation 600 times larger in which

we are all slaves.”

“No doubt before long factories will be totally extinct.

We'll probably label factories an endangered species

and preserve one or two

for people to wander through

to remember what they were like.”

“Employer and employee, this is Pussysmell Fingertips speaking —

you knew all along, didn't you, work-ethic as cattleprod,

cemetery of timeclocks, vomitgas canisters

ready and waiting.”

Tell the work-ethic you'll live to shit on its grave

and have it regard it as a blessing,

a blessing and not a curse.

Why? Because, with a grin of chagrin —

salves rather than slaves,

peonies rather than peonage,

prisms rather than prisons,

surfboards rather than serfdom,

wild rice rather than tame rice,

meteors rather than meat-eaters,

violins rather than violence,

warble rather than war.

Rather than business as usual, loafing as usual.

Instead of the Misery Index throwing people out of work,

throwing the work-ethic out the window.

Instead of warhead payload,

blowjobhead semenload.

Instead of warhead payload,

givinghead mouthload.

Children made angels in the snow

before the pyramids, before Stonehenge,

before Pleistocene creatures

were painted miles within on the walls of caves.

The Ghost Dance is still going on.

The Ghost Dance never died.

If Descartes had lived today

would he say —“I work, therefore I am”?

The Holocaust's cost — who will pay?

Roadkills in the Rearview Mirror?

Deathbed on Rollerskates?

Rubric of frolic and rollick and romp and roam

all with a gleaming plump rump?

People say Factories are closing down,

Yeah, just like acid rain is closing down,

Like toxic waste dumps are closing down,

Like deforestation and stripmining are closing down,

Yeah, like slaughterhouses, terrorism, Star Wars, oil spills,

handgun murder and AIDS are closing down.

Factories are closing down, but opening up somewhere else,

bigger, faster, producing more than ever somewhere else,

Somewhere else doors open and workers enter in,

Somewhere else workers daydream being free,

The smokestacks rise somewhere else,

The timeclocks, the paychecks, the drive

To and from work somewhere else.

If we can retread a worn-out tire,

how retread a worn-out life? Retire?

Recycle aluminum cans, sure, but

how recycle the wasted lives,

that question

not answered.

Something I had not bargained for,

Something I did not count on:

They peeled the skin off the father's face

in front of his children,

Then put a grenade in his mouth

and pulled the pin.

They gang-raped the mother in front of

her children's eyes,

Then cut off her breasts

and rammed a lighted stick of dynamite

up her cunt.

On your tombstone an ant crawls

in the chiseled dash


the dates of your life.

– Antler


Returning home

at midnight,

lorries pass me

on the main road.

Years ago, before I gained

my respectability,

I'd have thumbed

a lift

on one of those;

through the night

to morning

somewhere else,

new places, new faces, traces

of freedom.

I walk on home

to bed,

for tomorrow

I face


the workaday world.

–Gerald England

Sleep With Mouth Open

Place it here Don’t rise up so impatiently We are with a morning all the untidy waves creep toward Underneath Capture Moments when the flood fills And years ago they swept Johnstown with my backside Morning The clock strikes the back post Unfortunately, I climbed before the tide I closed your eyes with my lids I sunk down and took oblivion This is a generation The moment you bare yourself

Funk isn’t my word in someone else’s breath Hello I’m being me The television isn’t on Place it here I sink down The bellydancer reminds me of my navel The time between time Moment Moment when the sound ends There is sweat down my back

Happen Then I call you Night

I’m awake I got my body to rise

Hello If I answer will I get paid? Cycles of nature freaks sink the shoulders in front You’re not vision Your sleep is maintaining slips

People like us

Sleep with our mouths

Wide open

Sometimes we get so crazy We drive right in front of water The bars are closing Holier kisses Lips she laughs The thought of striking someone Pretty soon gasoline takes the place of needles It doesn’t take one out into the clearing salt

Break pace Day never before being this way Being this way Before Forget to remember the pace Break open the food Preserve and place it here Patience We’re getting over the flight Turbulence The activity of the jive jumbling stagnant day

Hello Hello Are you there? Are you awake? Does it sound like people resting?

– Marina Lazzara

The Reason We Work So Hard

Perhaps the reason we work so hard is

the same reason the beaver

must always keep gnawing down trees,

Otherwise its teeth which never stop growing

curve back into its jaws

so it can't eat

and dies in agony,

Except what grows in us is not

our teeth, but

our knowledge of death—

our own and everyone we love—

which keeps gnawing at us,

And like ants, bees, termites

who can't help themselves

and are forever busy,

So we, too, are caught, caught

in a desperate work routine

from which there is no escape.

We can't help ourselves,

although poets try,

Although composers, dancers, actors,

photographers, potters, painters,

sculptors, singers, musicians try,

although saviors and bodhisattvas try,

although beautiful cocks, tits cunts,

buttocks try…

– Antler



am D.O.A.

at work


the morning


i try

to notice


i hadn't

noticed before

today I saw

a big


that was growing

sideways out of a hill

and i woke up

for a second

bugs die


on the


but I

will go


– Spenser Thompson

Remaking a public education

Chris Carlsson on the education system.

Public schooling has become the current line of defense against dismantling the public sphere. Defending public school as we know it requires re-legitimizing the notion of a public good to be provided or at least guaranteed by the state. The past decade of Reaganism enshrined privatization, which shrank the entitlements and rights associated with the public sphere. Besides schools, what else does the public have anymore except some poorly tended parks, a few cash-starved museums and libraries, and rapidly deteriorating roads, rails and bridges? Were public schools eliminated, the state's functionson behalf of the public would be reduced to taxation and repression, and subsidizing business.

No one can defend public education without serious qualification, but such a defense must include an unqualified endorsement of the public. For all its flaws and mystifications, what is democracy if not a public process of politics and decision-making? A social institution that is self-consciously public and subject to political/popular control, however compromised, is important to a radical agenda that hopes to extend democratic social control over the whole of public life.

But instead of pouring our efforts into defending the few public institutions that still exist, we have to re-create and re-animate a public life that goes considerably beyond existing institutions. Our goal is not simply to reclaim public education, but to establish a new way of life in which public control over social matters (including economic ones) is understood as a political process subject to democratic norms (norms which are themselves determined by social processes). To do this we need to educate people to self-confidently participate. Public education's role looms large, not because specific curricula lead to specific results, but because school is where we most intensively interact with and learn about others outside of the family, neighborhood or work. Public schools, at their best, bring together people of widely different cultural, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds and socialize them to participate in cooperative activities, develop respect for others, and so on. The public schools could be the best arena for us to learn what public life is about, and how we can participate in it.

It is easy to criticize schools as institutions of social control that create unthinking zombies that will become the pliable workers and consumers of the future. But most of us who might make such a glib critique are living examples of the porous nature of schooling's social control agenda. For instance, almost everything of value that I learned in school resulted from social interactions and experiences that took place in spite of the twisted logic of the school system. Learning, for better or worse, goes on everwhere, not just at school. Television has at least as much influence as schooling in shaping our ideas about the world and ourselves and our sense of what's possible. Even if a zealous right-wing Christianity took over the public schools and instituted its narrow, authoritarian curriculum, there is no guarantee that it would reliably produce the kind of obedient, God-fearing, hard-working citizens they dream about. Similarly, a more left-leaning school curriculum may not predictably produce critical, self-motivated, responsible citizens ready to assert themselves as part of a wider public life.


Curriculum is not the most important educational issue. Rather, it is the people we meet, the relationships we establish, and whether or not we are encouraged to think for ourselves and to believe our own experiences, that finally have the greatest influence on what kind of people we are when we emerge from our education. Education's role in shaping our imagination is one compelling reason for school integration. Rising racial tension encourages even neo-liberals to see school desegregation as an ameliorative policy.Racial integration in public schools is a necessary foundation for a racially integrated public life. In spite of spasms of ethnic cleansing and chronic world-wide racism, a vibrant, ever-evolving, cross-pollinating multiculturalism is spreading across the globe. Some of the best things about living in San Francisco, New York, or other big cities, are the astounding possibilities for cross-cultural experience, unfortunately most often limited to our role as consumers. You can breakfast Chinese Dim Sum, tour a Modern Art Exhibit, lunch Italian, check out Latino murals in the afternoon, shop New Age White Professional Thrift Store, dine Thai or Indian, and dance the night away at a rap club, salsa disco, white kid rock club, whatever, and top it off at an Irish bar or a Salvadoran Taqueria. But it is considerably more rare to hang out at your white friend's house, then head over to Bayview to your black friend's house, and then to Chinatown and see your friends there, then everyone heads over to the Mission, and so on.

Luckily there are plenty of pockets of genuine cross-cultural interest and respect in big cities, which are (hopefully) sources of cultural dynamism and new thinking. Developing a respect and appreciation for other cultures may even help stem the erosion of cultural diversity caused by the market pressure to Americanize. (While environmentalists have been decrying shrinking biodiversity, an equally serious problem for human society is shrinking cultural diversity, with a majority of known languages falling into disuse, and astonishing reservoirs of knowledge disappearing as the inexorable march of progress squashes remaining pockets of indigenous culture worldwide.) Accommodating different cultures in public schools counters the push to embrace monocultural white-bread values, even if in adapting to a multi-ethnic society each individual subculture begins to change too. Moreover, multicultural education accurately reflects the real new world order, which will no longer have the U.S. and European culture as its imperial standard. In adapting to a multi-polar, multi-ethnic world, it's crucial to have the educational opportunities and intensity of social experience available in a city like San Francisco.

In 1993, though, segregated and unequal public education is the norm throughout the United States. The attempt to address a deeply racist, predominantly segregated society by integrating public schools (ignoring housing, wealth, etc.) has led to more open-mindedness and less overt racism. But that apparent achievement by progressive forces has proven to be a very limited--even empty--victory. School desegregation has been isolated and outflanked by white flight, privatization and anti-tax revolts (like the 1978 California Proposition 13). Compare almost any white suburban school to its non-white urban counterpart and the results are clear. Overall education spending has gone up, but the gap between rich and poor is wider than ever. Many poor districts are spending less now than they were a decade ago. Rich school districts, which tax their local property at rates far below poverty stricken areas, spend as much as five to eight times as much as nearby poor districts. The result is sharp, self-perpetuating racial and class divisions.


Racial integration remains an important goal for public schools. But it is patently absurd to expect integrated public schools alone to overcome this society's deeply entrenched institutional and personal racism. School integration falls even farther short of the mark when the goal is equality What is theequal education integrated schools are supposed to deliver? Shall we measure equality of opportunity or equality of results? How do you measure equality of opportunity? In dollars per pupil? By holding everyone accountable to some national standards for spending, facilities, and classroom size? By evaluating teachers and determining teacher/student ratios? Certainly equal education mandates national standards regarding equalized resource allocation.

But even if resource distribution were equalized, how could we know that it led to equality? Can test results help us assess equal education? One of my earliest lessons in critical thinking came in the 10th grade when we engaged in a lengthy analysis of the stupidity of grades and tests as meaningful measurements of anything. Grades are obviously highly subjective, and after a brief analysis even the most objective test turns out to be laden with racial and class biases that taint any results it may provide.

Does equal education mean giving specific subcultural communities control over curriculum and assessment? Or does equality imply instead that subcultures should be subsumed within the larger community, and everyone evaluated on some objective national norms? If so, what constitutes the dominant cultural norm, and what makes us so sure it is sufficiently fixed that we can evaluate whether or not people have been adequately trained to meet it?

Is there some new way of understanding and appreciating the role of education, independent of measurable results? If we can recreate an animated public life, the entry and participation of students and young adults may be a better gauge of good education than any test results.

"Equality," whether with respect to educational opportunity or outcome, or even citizenship, is one of the ambiguous concepts that permanently undergird our equally vague notions of democracy. Democracy remains an all-purpose, utterly malleable expression that encompasses radical egalitarianism, middle-class desires for an honest meritocracy, and the reality of a violent, oligarchical class- and race-divided society in which we are allowed an occasional vote for pre-selected candidates, representing minor differences in emphasis rather than a true political alternative. The concept of democracy is elastic enough to accommodate even the brutal liquidation of minorities in foreign lands under the auspices of U.S. intelligence agencies promoting "majority rule." Whatever definition of "equality" or "democracy" one might choose to embrace, there will surely be several dozen others embraced just as passionately.

If there are no objective standards for evaluating educational success or failure, what are the subjective standards and whose interests do they represent? When you hear someone addressing the failure of education, what is their vision of educational success and what social values does that vision embody? How do such educational goals affect the creation of a democracy? How does a democratic society shape its public sphere without being coercive? In other words, what are the limits of individual freedom in a real democracy?


From its Jeffersonian roots in the one-room schoolhouse of mid-19th century rural America to its expansion into assimilation factories during the great waves of immigration at the turn of the last century, public schooling has always been an arena of conflicting desires and social interests. The US ruling class greatly feared generalized literacy for many generations, and the fight for public education was a popular, democratizing opposition to those interests. But even in its most progressive forms, education's structure kept it well within the limits of capitalist society.

In fact, for most of this century, mandatory public schooling primarily served to create useful workers at public expense to be exploited in the marketplace for private gain. Of course, the educators assumed they were serving society at large and generally gave little thought to how they were directly filling the needs of business. Now, as the economy has become increasingly automated, the need for workers in general has diminished while the demand for (fewer) new workers with different skills has grown.

An equally important purpose of education is pacification. Keep the kids unwaged and safely within institutions as long as possible. Adapt them to passive, isolated lives of alienated consumption at best, and if they are sufficiently connected or hard-working, give them a repetitive, essentially meaningless job. For the tiniest select minority, upscale private schools lead to expensive private universities and a slot in the policy- and profit-making professions.

In the new world market, the proletarianizing and pacifying model of school and work no longer holds much promise. In the old economic model, whether workers thought or what they thought about was irrelevant so long as they did their jobs and didn't cause too much trouble. Most of them failed at school in any case. With the drastic cheapening of manual and manufacturing labor in the expanding world market, the rhetoric of reform stresses that new, supposedly more intelligent workers are needed to compete successfully.

Congealed as computerized data as well as human capital, thinking itself is now a necessary prerequisite for accumulation as well as something to be accumulated. Economic competitiveness, we are told, now depends on the expansion of "knowledge work" and the creation of more flexible "knowledge workers." Therefore, educational reform must facilitate colonizing the mind in new ways. Education reformers seek a new style of schooling that will turn more human thinking into work, which in turn will lead to further capital accumulation (the real measurement of health in our society). For this project to succeed, students must, at a higher level and more comprehensively than before, accept their role as trainees in search of scarce niches on the projects of transnational capital.

The extension of capitalist discipline from the muscle to the brain has been underway for decades in the restructuring of work and leisure and the amazing expansion of merchandising and mass media (this is sometimes referred to theoretically as the change from the formal to the real domination of capital). To ensure its control of our imaginations, modern capitalism requires more than the threat of unemployment or even homelessness. We must be sold on active and enthusiastic participation. Everyone must work for a healthy economy! We must do a good job! The problem for capitalist education planners is producing enthusiastic workers with extremely narrow competence.

President Clinton promises great reforms in education to ensure U.S. competitiveness in the world market. Robert Reich, his labor secretary, wrote recently: "There is no simple way to enlarge upon the number of Americans eligible for the high-wage jobs of the future. More money for education and training is necessary, but is hardly sufficient. The money...must be focused on building two key capacities in the workforce: First, the ability to engage in lifelong learning, and second, the opportunity to engage in it on the job. The most important intellectual (and economic) asset which a new entrant into the workforce can possess is the knowledge of how to learn."S.F. Chronicle Dec. 1992]

Clinton, a man firmly within the mainstream of the ruling class in his allegiance to the marketplace as the source of human improvement, sold educational reform as Governor of Arkansas by pitching it as the basis for economic renewal. "...the plain evidence in every state in this country is that you must have a higher threshold of people with college degrees if you want low unemployment" not because most of the new jobs in the economy will require college degrees; most of 'em won't. But because most of them will be created by entrepreneurs who have that kind of education." American Educator, Fall 1992

But what about the majority who will be forced into the bottom tier of our 2-tiered society, left to fight for those jobs that don't require college degrees? Clearly work has been restructured to the point where most jobs do not need much prior training. As long as you know how to learn, you can become an efficient worker in a matter of minutes, or at most, days. Schooling as it is now prepares one adequately for long hours of repetitive, uncreative labor. Will the reformers extend academic tracking even further to try to prevent the bottom-tier from becoming too critical and aware? If not, how can the system survive if most of the people who are condemned to such part-time and precarious temporary work are able to think critically about their situation? The ideological hegemony of the capitalist way of life may erode rapidly if educational reforms actually produce more thoughtful citizens.

A more realistic forecast is that schools won't change that much. New books, curriculum, and tests will be announced with much to-do, while the underlying reality of education won't budge. Fortunately, learning is more about experiences than curriculum. Whatever reforms are implemented, the real education will come from the relationships formed in and around each classroom. The increase in parent-participation in public schools gives us all an opportunity to bring the experiences we think are important into our kids' education. The focus and scope of learning is always being contested, and we can intimately affect them if we want to.


I have a daughter in the 3rd grade who attends an alternative public school. The school retains some of the spirit of its founding in the early '70s, with faculty and parents who are strongly committed not only to parent participation, but to alternative pedagogy, integrated cultures, ages, and grades, and conflict resolution as well. Rather than serving under a principal, the school's faculty elects a "head teacher," a job that rotates. It's very racially balanced, with no group over 30%. This year the school has been a pilot test site for an alternative approach to curriculum in which kids select special interdisciplinary projects (beginning oceanography, farmers' market calendar, multicultural cookbook, kids' guide to Bay Area Transit, pre-Colombian ocean kayaks, etc.) that they work on intensively for 3-6 weeks. By any standard, this school is a gem.

Having listed its rosy attributes, I have to say that it is still a public school. The building is cramped and awful, surrounded by a big asphalt yard. Parents chip in up to $300 to pay a Phys Ed instructor's salary, for which there is no public funding. The library is a large closet, and the nearby city library only allows classes to visit once a year! My child is often bored. I don't think she is very challenged by a lot of what she does all day, but I don't really blame the school or the teacher because I think both are good.

The frustration comes when you begin to imagine how different schooling could be if it were more integrated into the web of daily life. Children are curious and infrequently satisfied by the knowledge gained through school. But if you let them help do a real job that needs doing, the experience is much more meaningful, and teaches the child to believe in her own experiences rather than representations of other people's experiences. Practical knowledge of mechanics, gardening, computers, transportation, and so on, are all more thoroughly and interestingly absorbed from being out in the world, not from sitting around listening to lectures, watching videos, or even reading books (although they have their place). But life is not organized to accommodate groups of children participating usefully. And we know that it is not education's goal to produce active, inquisitive, resourceful people. Even alternative schools foster socially-approved attitudes and behaviors.

It's a cop-out to blame everything on the institutions that constrain our lives. Because the really great things that happened to me in the educational environment were nearly always social, I recognize my responsibility to enter the educational swamp. Unless I opt for homeschooling, I will continue sharing my daughter's development with public schools. The least I can do, which is unfortunately usually all that I do, is to go on camping and field trips and get involved with the kids and other adults. I bring a different perspective to the school environment, and I love meeting people from other walks of life, which always leads to interesting exchanges.Of course, most parents have to work all day and don't have time to make up for the inadequacies of public schooling by spending hours at the school, or volunteering for extracurricular activities. Hinging improved schooling on such participation endorses the generalized speed-up and intensification of labor that is already exhausting most working people. While admirable, the incredible number of hours parents spend raising money through thankless garage and bake sales, raffles, and carnivals, passes a public cost ontotheir backs and extends their work week. Yet somehow, we who are committed to radical change must find the extra energy, time and effort to participate in arenas such as public school, even if in the short term it just feels like more (unrewarded) work.

My daughter's entire school takes a camping trip to nearby San Bruno Mountain every October. I've participated three times now. When I showed up at San Bruno Mountain this year, two boys with whom I'd shared a cabin nearly a year and a half earlier came running up to me, excitedly yelling my name. I suddenly realized how much the time I'd spent playing and talking with them meant to them. During that earlier trip, I had felt rather overwhelmed. I did my best to treat the boys well and show them respect, but at the time I was struck by how fundamentally impossible the public school teacher's job is. How can one adult give 30-odd kids the enormous emotional and intellectual energy and discipline they need? A lot of kids don't get much of this at home, and when they get to school, they need a lot.

Although the problems children face are not going to be solved by any one relationship, you cannot underestimate the importance of honest friendship. This society is a very cold place, and many kids never experience other people's trust and confidence, or get to discuss things with someone interested in their opinion. Even a brief encounter with someone who helps you understand why things are as crazy as they are can make a huge difference in surviving this absurd society.

Helping to dispell children's confusion has everything to do with the shape and content of any future social movements. A child's way of thinking and relating to others is inculcated early. A culture enriched by difficult questions and dialogue could help spawn a 21st-century generation of revolutionaries worthy of the name. We all have a lot to contribute in making that culture a living reality. But this means reinhabiting public life, creating and participating in public events, and challenging the fatigue and passivity that keeps so many of us home watching TV instead of out among our friends, neighbors, and strangers. Can we rise to the occasion?

--Chris Carlsson


Book reviews in Processed World #31.

MIDNIGHT OIL: Work, Energy, War 1973‑1993

by the Midnight Notes Collective ($12, Autonomedia, POB 568 Williamsburg Station, Brooklyn, NY 11211‑0568)
I was reading Midnight Oil when the news was published in late January 1993 that Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips had exclusive concessions to about two‑thirds of Somalia's future oil and gas discoveries. Conoco's headquarters, the only multinational corporate office still open through Somalia's civil war, became the de facto American embassy when the U.S. military moved in.

With this knowledge, the Somalian “humanitarian” effort became more understandable, and strongly illustrates the Midnight Notes Collective's thesis that recent history must be seen from the working class point of view through the lens of petroleum.

The collective basically sees economic crisis as capital's response to the working class movements (working class defined as broadly as possible) of the late '60s and early '70s, which managed to win major increases in wages and social benefits. Oil price shocks in 1973‑74 ended the post‑war “deal,” beginning the rollback of living standards. Later, after 1979, cheap oil was reimposed as an attack on the heightened expectations of the people of oil‑producing countries, with a subsequent explosion of international debt. This in turn allowed (and still allows) capital to force down living standards in nation after nation through “structural adjustment programs” imposed by the IMF and World Bank. The need for continued high production demands new investments, but capital is unwilling to invest when the proletariat threatens to not work hard enough for little enough. According to Midnight Oil and its very informative and detailed account of the economy of the six million guest workers in the Middle East, these many people and their expectations of sharing the oil wealth were a major source of fear for international capital. Before capital would reinvest massively in oil production in the Middle East, it had to be confident of its control there and back in the major market, the U.S. When Americans accepted the Persian Gulf War in the Middle East, both ends were achieved, at least for the moment: the Middle East is completely militarized and millions of potentially troublesome guest workers have been sent back to Egypt, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. Meanwhile, the “peace movement” and their antecedents in the anti‑nuke, pro‑alternative technology crowd were rendered practically mute in the face of the onslaught. (See also in Midnight Oil “Strange Victories,” an essay included from the first issue of Midnight Notes in 1979, written by bolo'bolo author p.m., which examines exactly who the anti‑nuke movement was in terms of class, race and sociology). Oil companies have been free to raise the price of oil over 30% in the past year in the U.S., while there is no longer any public discussion about abolishing the massive use of fossil fuels as soon as possible. Military occupation of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and the maintenance of a police state in Iraq, as well as the theocracy in Iran, all work to hold down the people of those countries and preserve the extremes of wealth and poverty.

Midnight Oil incorporates essays from Midnight Notes during the '80s, including several from the recent “New Enclosures” issue. A number of pieces from the original 1975 Zerowork are republished here and lay out some of the theoretical foundations of the Midnight Notes perspective. The opening 100 pages of the book are all new, offering some of MN's best work ever once you get used to the emphasis on working class composition, re‑composition and de‑composition as explanatory concepts.

Midnight Notes' emphasis on seeing things from the working class point of view provides a refreshing reminder of the usefulness of some of Marx's original analyses about the broader categories of capitalist society. I have quibbled with my friends at MN for years over the semantic emphasis on capital and the working class, as though there were two clear entities making unified but opposed plans and taking action on them. I occasionally feel like I'm hearing a crackpot conspiracy theory. But Midnight Oil overcame that with clear although abstract analysis. They still use language that can sound silly and conspiratorial, not to mention a bit stodgy, but given the real course of events during the past 20 years, it is fascinating how their analysis parallels and predicts history. The next time you want to go deeper than “Those Unfair Oil Companies!” or “No Blood for Oil” or “Why is the Middle East so crazy?” get yourself a copy of Midnight Oil and settle in for an illuminating, challenging, and extremely informative read.

—Chris Carlsson

The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving
by John Hoffman Copyright 1993 (Loompanics Unlimited, P.O.Box 1197, Port Townsend, WA 98368 $12.95)

The Art & Science of Dumpster Diving made me late for work twice and almost miss my train stop once. I have a fragile stomach and it turns over at the thought of diving into a dumpster or even reading a book on the subject. I changed my mind at the sight of the bright cover by Ace Backwords, a cartoonist oft published in these pages.

The earnestness and aptness of this book is fascinating in these fragile times . Here is the wisdom gleaned from a lifetime practice of dumpster diving as both a means of survival and an art form. There is advice about what to wear, look for, avoid and how to behave with people you encounter diving such as competitors, residents, cops and building managers. And watch out for glass and beware of bio‑hazards such as red pouched “sharps” in hospital waste bins.

Raucous happiness underscores his every description of people engaging in economic activities such as dumpstering that deny the taxman and various local profiteers any gain. Beyond mere physical survival, the spirit of diving gives “Hoffmanville” its identity as a collective endeavor. Hoffman conveys well the individual and shared joys, learning and discoveries of these forays.

Hoffman points out that grassroots trash recyclers re‑inject wealth into the economy and save a lot of dump site space. But too little and too late. Recycling works well only when discards are sorted at the household level. If your neighbors are as subhuman as mine are, good luck getting the work done! Local laws, locked dumpster areas (garbage is precious private property!) and trash compactors are used to frustrate the whole dumpster underground economy and should be actively fought (see “W.O.R.C. will make you free” on page 119, that's “War On Refuse Compactors”.) In truth, I recycle, that means sort, my garbage and do not care who takes it. This is controversial in places where people think the city or half‑assed non‑profit organization should make a buck at it. Not so in this book:

“Think about the stupidity! Dumpster divers and small recyclers are working efficiently, recycling things and injecting money into the economy. The waste recovery plant lives off tax money like a junkie, sucking the local economy dry. Who gets blamed? The dumpster diver of course! And when he stops picking through the trash, the facility still doesn't make any money. And it will never make money because the whole idea is flawed from the start, based upon an irrational fear of garbage.” (page 125)

There is more here than dumpster diving techniques and wilted vegie recipes, etiquette and fashion. There's the Loompanics libertarian I‑Love‑Guns persona with amazing Inalienable American Rights to bear arms and constitutionally topple any iniquitous government. But stay away from the cops, they're nothing but trouble:

“Cops piss me off. They come at you with an attitude that you are guilty and they are going to get you to admit it with a few verbal tricks. Just once, I'd like to meet a pig with an attitude like I have a shining aura of civil rights around my body and possessions. Criminals with guns and badges, that's all they are.” (page 58).

It's indeed lamentably obvious that cops are trained in harassment techniques and lack concern for the remnants of civic liberties. At least in my adopted hometown, Berkeley. No People's Republic but Pig Sty Supreme. “'Nuff said”.

Hoffman convinced me that there is hidden treasure in the bins, that dumspter diving is a respectable occupation and even better, a subversion of the consumer society. He has a predisposition for what he calls “post‑apocalyptic” landscapes and attitudes. I personal­ly don't twig to apocalyptic visions, especially when they are combined with the closing of the second christian millennium. But I appreciate the images Hoffman evokes and his way of living off the plentiful discards and discords of our consumer society.

There's lots of juicy stuff on the art of putting “found information” to good use, and bushels of illegal possibilities should the reader be half a jailbird at heart. The worst story was garbage mail being used by a “church lady” and her group to close an abortion clinic. The enemy is using this found shit and so should you. That's the book talking, not me... really, Officer.

The best stories were on how to make your local legislator look bad in the press through a careful read of his discarded info. Police mail is the best.

Sexy pictures from neighbors or high school classmates aren't bad either. And the future is now:

“In the last few years, I have seen an amazing dumpster phenomenon. People are discarding floppy disks and computer related material by the ton.... Finding a floppy disk is like finding a cabinet full of papers —but in a compact, easy‑to‑use format. Once, I actually found the famous PLO virus. No wonder they threw it away.” (page 139)

There is a somewhat didactic tone which can annoy the reader. But hey! Hoffman is a survivalist (without the vengeance, which he deplores as common amongst that group ).

He preaches his stuff with plenty of religious fervor and admoni­tions to have fun at it, get back at the enemy (power companies, taxman, retail industries, banks...), use your imagination and thrive in the cracks of a dying capitalist economic web. There is a downplayed survivalist anti‑abortion stance perhaps because the more (armed survivalists) the merrier? Women have the inalienable right to their body at all times in my script. Hoffman's bias also shows in the statement that businesses are a front for government:

“If the government demanded all persons buying books show proper ID, K‑Mart would slavishly obey the edict. Don't pity the ”poor businessman", he's a whore for the government. You might as well be shopping at the IRS store..." (page 100)

I used to think that governments were a front for businesses, then I grew up. Now I know it is a two‑headed Cerebus. Don't hesitate to use the singular: BIZGOV.

The most basic advice works regardless of your ideological leanings. Don't pay full price if you don't have to, mattresses being the sole exception according to the author. I know a lot of people whose predilection favors flea markets above malls for the thrill and challenge of barter and that's what Hoffman pushes: free thrills. And a cash bonus to boot. “THAR'S GOLD IN THEM THAR DUMPSTERS!” He claims it's better than bill posting or spray painting because it furthers family interests. Well, to each her cup of tea.

In the meantime and as times do get mean (have been getting meaner forever really), Hoffman does his part in sharing his way to get from under the heavy economic boot of the “best system in the world”, well known for its recurrent crashes, depressions, reces­sions, etc. So if you have a steady nose, go hound out those treasures. It could be a fun hunt. The book certainly is a fun read.

—Pétra Leuze

THE LONDON HANGED: Crime and Civil Society in 18th Century England

by Peter Linebaugh (Cambridge University Press, New York: 1992) $25

Midnight Notes contributor Peter Linebaugh, once a student of reknowned British labor historian E.P. Thompson, has fulfilled the promise of that apprenticeship by publishing an incredibly detailed account of the use of capital punishment in London from the late 17th century through the 18th century. This is a long, very serious book, that microscopically covers the daily lives of London's working class during the crucial century in which contemporary work and property relations became firmly established. As Linebaugh shows, these relations were often enforced with the gallows. In an era when history is increasingly absent, denied, and manipulated, this book stands out as a beacon of clear, engaging historical writing. Linebaugh's analysis of the establishment of capital punishment for property crimes, the ebb and flow of the death penalty with changing labor needs, and the rise of wage‑slavery and factory work sheds interesting light on the current resurgence of capital punishment in the United States. 20th‑century work and property relations are more precarious than ever thanks to new technologies, and new forms of resistance and refusal. Perhaps most compellingly, using work as a measure of social wealth makes less and less sense when capital itself is systematically reducing the use of human labor in most areas of production. The ultimate punishment is making a comeback as society descends into criminal chaos and as desperate poverty becomes more widespread. The London Hanged helps us see the social processes and decisions that make reliance on the death penalty “natural” and “obvious” and confronts us with their absurdity as reflected in a similar but vastly different moment in history, a history as much ours as Londoners'. Check it out!

—Chris Carlsson

REAL GIRL: The Sex Comik for all genders and orientations...

by cartoonists who are good in bed! Edited by Angela Bocage. (Fantagraphics Books, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115) $2.95

Real Girl is real good. Cowgirls make horns at the blues. Maybe the sometimes beautiful and sometimes not too aesthetic genitalia would scare your mother. That's not the raison d'être for this diverse collec­tion of cartoons. The philosophy here is of exploration and acceptance. It's so varied in scope that anyone can find a romantic soft touch or g‑spot to hook on to. It is amazingly moral in essence.

I passed it to my favorite teenagers (it's restricted as in not for sale to minors) and the favorite story from Real Girl #3 was “Signed Sister Ende” by Chula Smith, a historical dream sequence of sorts, in which a 20th century woman teacher introduces the religious illumina­tions of a 13th century woman painter. She signed her work “Ende Pintrix, Dei Autrix”: Ende, Woman Painter & servant of god. In the background, modern school kids practice jungle war on each other.

That just shows it's not about sex only. Everything is acceptable so long as it promulgates understanding and acceptance. I'd recommend it for all those pesky teenagers still in your life or soon to be. But if I were you I'd grab it first, 'coz it's a great read. Make this comix required reading in all high schools!

—Pétra Leuze

Struggle Against Study: How To Scam Your Way Through College—with Pay

Processed World's guide to scamming your way through college.

“What's wrong with education?” many people like to ask, as if to fix it. What's “wrong” is that education — particularly the university — is under attack from within by its students' refusal of work, and nothing can be done about it short of abolishing the schools, which is fine with me. Many of us want it all now, and this doesn't often include work, waged or unwaged. Scamming is the way we satisfy our needs: cheating, using financial aid for things besides school, and graduating after having done little or no work whatsoever. I'm a scammer, and when I'm done I hope to have a Ph.D. This is a guide for you to get one too.

Scamming as a Tactic. In one sense, universities are merely factories that expect students to do the unwaged work of teaching ourselves to work endlessly, without direct supervision, but with periodic productivity checks (tests, grades, GPAs). The crisis in higher education suggests that we have been relatively successful at both refusing and transcending this process: There has been some transformation of the university into spaces that serve our desires to learn about ourselves and our histories.

Refusal, however, is not limited to “multiculturalism” or “student activism,” but includes scamming and refusing all school/work no matter what its content. And it occurs on such a widespread level that it already has networks that circulate tests, notes, papers, and other information and techniques. Scamming's significant advantage over traditional student movements that make demands through protesting is that it focuses on undermining the logic of the system, and the processes within which we are forced to operate; merely protesting for changes in the system does not. The best part of it is that this can go undetected indefinitely, while protesters can be easily identified and cut off.

Scamming can combine using “alternative” courses whose content is generally antagonistic to the purposes of the university ‑‑ although many times they merely reproduce the university system through grades, homework, teacher‑student hierarchy, etc. ‑ with using the system against itself. This can be done individually, or in groups (frats and sororities are very good at this) that have circulated information among themselves over time. There may not be an ultimate end ‑‑ other than just hanging out and enjoying life ‑‑ but a long‑term payoff like a diploma indicates nothing about how much one worked to get it. Some scamming students may even end up with a high standard of living, unrelated to the amount they worked in school.

No Work... Of the 121 hours I completed 11 were knocked off before I started, by taking placement tests. Since I receive financial aid, I got to take the tests for free. As a result I skipped my first french semester and the intro classes in my major and english. This worked out well since my first french and english profs told me to my face that I should not have skipped the intro courses.

Self‑designed courses also work well, if you pick the right people. Just find professors who are willing to let you design and pace your own course of study. One possibility is to find one who needs a little assistance on his or her own project. Organize it so you can get away with doing very little. I did.

Internships — working for a business for the piece wages of grades — are possibly the most exploitative offshoot of school, if you don't use them with some imagination. In the late 1980s, I found myself working as a legislative aid. I decided that I might as well use it to get some grades. I signed up for an internship credit and got six hours of A's for a job I was getting paid to do. The two papers I had to write were done mostly at work, on the state's computer.

Use pass/fail options: Majors in my department can take six hours of classes this way, and I used them all. This means you can take a class and do very little work, since even the slightest effort usually results in at least a passing grade of D.

For those remaining classes you have to take, there is little need to actually go. I learned too late that if you borrow at least two people's notes (so you can compare) for the classes you missed, it's as good as being there. Most intro courses have notes available for purchase from local note‑taking businesses. But don't give them your money unless you have to. Just trade notes with people in class. It already happens all the time.

If you don't do as well as you like, go talk to the TA. They will frequently tack on a few points just to get you to leave them alone.

...and Pay. The key to scamming is getting paid while you do it. Although financial aid means some work (and increasingly so to discourage us from it), it's been my subsistence and has paid for traveling ‑‑ for fun and student conferences ‑‑ and has bought everything I own. Since you only need to take 12 credit hours to get full aid, the above scams can help you get through in four years and a summer if you want ‑‑ and I stupidly did before waking up to the possibilities.

This university gives you three “strikes” for violating aid rules. You get a strike for falling below 12 hours or the minimum GPA, or dropping out. (I was able to avoid a strike when I dropped to nine hours by explaining how a fascist professor threatened to fail me if I didn't drop the course. A true story, but it doesn't have to be.) You can drop your courses by a specified date and get back your full tuition and fees, plus keep the aid money. For the next semester all you need to do is apply for a Student Loan Supplement (an “SLS”) to cover the amount they'll subtract from the aid money you were supposed to return. Check into how they do it at your school. I've made up for the reduced aid by taking out an SLS.

To use an SLS you have to be an independent. I had to have my parents sign a paper stating that they would not deduct me from their next return. As an independent, you get nearly full Pell Grants (likely to increase dramatically according to a recent congressional proposal) and you can use SLSs (which, unlike Stafford loans, begin to accrue interest immediately — for those who for some reason intend to repay their loans). Another good use for SLSs is to borrow the amount calculated as the “student contribution” (i.e. a second job), something financial aid doesn't tell you outright.

In all, I scammed on 35 of the required undergraduate 120 hours. And this has all become easier in grad school, since I had only four required classes and have to take only nine thesis hours to have a “full load.”

Aid for grad students is superb. You can borrow up to $50,000 for a master's, and $105,000 total in Stafford loans and SLSs to complete a Ph.D. At about $9,000/year (including the summer) I can work on my master's for five years. Employed grad students can get full aid on top of their salary. That means working, but having more money to fund traveling when you're supposed to be working on your thesis or dissertation. In fact, if you invest the extra money you can make a few thousand extra off the backs of other workers by the time you decide whether to repay the loans.

It has certainly been easy for me to spend three‑and‑a‑half years working on my piddling MA in Fine Arts. Although financial aid only allows you to take 30 hours of course work, I can graduate with incompletes if they are not in my department. I could theoretically keep taking classes outside of my department until my aid runs out and still graduate! I might as well soak up all the $50,000 (or more if congress increases the ceiling) since I don't plan to pay it back.

After two more semesters I'll begin on my dissertation, which could still last for a while, since I haven't borrowed even half the $105,000 I can borrow through Stafford and SLSs. Since I wrote enough for a dissertation while writing my thesis I'll have little work to do. I figure I can go for another four years “working” on my dissertation: Traveling around every semester, coming back to get my aid, and making some gratuitous visits to my committee. I hope by that time the loan cap will be hiked again.

Eating the Insides Out. Financial aid has been a major source of the crisis of the universities both in the US and internationally. In the US, a growing number of students are refusing ‑‑ because they don't want to reduce their standard of living, or they don't care ‑‑ or are unable to repay their loans. Total defaults have doubled since the mid‑'80s. In the meanwhile, guarantors have gone bankrupt, banks refuse to loan students money or delay processing applications, the government and universities are divesting from aid programs, trade schools are being banned from the program, and banks are going under.

Student debt default is considered one of the top reasons for the collapse of banking (along with “Third World” debt, farming loan defaults, etc., thus indicating a link between student, third‑world, and farmers' struggles). Like the shift from grants to loans in the US, using loans to replace free schooling in the UK and Australia can be seen as a response to students' taking and using the money without doing much work.

Scamming makes it damn near impossible for the folks who worry endlessly about what's fucking up their factories to realize what's really going on. While Business Week and the rest cry about the universities churning out “lemons” who don't want to work (they say we “don't know how” or are “unprepared”), we should be looking at ways to circulate tactics for continuing the quiet insurgency. Much of the right‑wing attack on so‑called “PC” is predicated on reimposing discipline in the universities on students who don't so much read Marx instead of Plato, but don't do anything the university plans for us to do—that is, endless hours reading, writing, studying, going to class, etc. Instead, we're busy doing what we want in our own way while using their money, and learning a hell of a lot more as a result. It's no coincidence that right‑wing organizations such as Madison Center and the National Association of Scholars are funded by huge corporations like Coors, Mobil, Bechtel, KMart, and Olin. By learning how not to work we are threatening not only the universities, but capital's control over us through work itself.

The beauty of scamming through school is getting paid to have fun. And because it's not a concerted, organized, explicit movement, it is beyond the grasp of both the university planners and the left. While the Progressive Student Network suggests we “study and struggle,” I say “struggle against study”!

—Sal Acker