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May 03, 2010

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Amazing that amid all the current craziness, few are concerned about the continued forced starvation of our once good, sometimes great, public school systems. Doesn't even seem to be on the radar. And the myopia deepens.

Great article! I share a similar memory as a representative of the next generation at McClintock High School in Tempe. After I graduated in the 1990s, several of my teachers either moved to newer schools, retired, or passed away -- and my first thought in reflecting back on these changes is "Oh no!"

First it was the continually declining population of middle class families in the area, displaced by college students and speculators; now the loss of truly great teachers, some of whom were nationally known. And my father who attended Coronado a decade before you has told me many similar stories of his days there as a wrestler-turned-activist. Even closer to home for me, we spent the weekend in your old hood cleaning up my grandparents' recently burglarized home and saying hello to the last few old-time neighbors who stopped by to check in on us. I marveled at how the neighborhood has changed in recent years as a result of major demographic shifts and various real estate deals, both good and bad, in the surrounding area.

Flash forward, as I drive through the older West side neighborhoods on my way through town, noticing the last remaining elementary schools that resemble one I attended in Tempe (or my mother for that matter, in the Roosevelt District). There was definitely a unique style to those old red brick buildings, and they always seemed to serve us just fine. I can't help but wonder why we're tearing down so many to build new facilities in their places, rather than adding on as needed and repairing/replacing the less permanent components that need updating.

It seems that the same attitude is applied to our neighborhoods in that they age, deteriorate, and then get replaced or overlooked as blocking the way to newer and therefore better crap. Too bad, since I can't begin to describe the pride that I felt by briefly attending the very same elementary school in Prescott where my Italian grandfather once took his beatings for not wearing Levi's. Knowing a place by the proud record of past generations seems to be one of the greatest attributes of a well sustained community.

A most excellent essay!

Mr. Talton wrote:

"The education of the whole person encouraged at CHS was most valuable. It was education as soulcraft. It was educating citizens, not preparing "workers" or "consumers." "

Not for nothing did Thomas Aquinas, in his commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics, give this definition of the liberal arts:

"Only those arts are called liberal or free which are concerned with knowledge; those which are concerned with utilitarian ends that are attained through activity, however, are called servile."

More directly to the point is Joseph Pieper in "Leisure: The Basis of Culture":

"A functionary is trained. Training is concerned with one side or aspect of man, with regard to some special subject. Education concerns the whole man; an educated man is a man with a point of view from which he takes in the whole world. Education concerns the whole man, capax universi, capable of grasping the totality of existing things."

Aquinas (in his Commentary on Proverbs) takes it a step further still:

"It is necessary for the perfection of human society that there should be men who devote their lives to contemplation (nota bene, necessarily not only for the good of the individual who so devotes himself, but for the good of human society." (Pieper)

I don't remember ever reciting the Lord's Prayer, but I was a student of Jim Newcomer's and classmate of Jon Talton's--we worked on some of the same shows--and Jon speaks the truth. Coronado's fine arts department was remarkable, a coming-together of talent and good fortune that's hard to imagine in most of today's United States.

"Many Americans who enjoyed similar experiences went on to spend the next decades voting against their interests, voting against the very institutional strengths that had made their lives so rich. And therein lies our journey as a nation." Yes.

Emil, that is the coolest comment you have provided to date, according to my sensibilities.

I'll just add that Krishnamurti, who founded his own schools, was concerned the exact same educational issues.

:)

Also, there is the story of "The Glass Bead Game," by Hesse, that is woven around a society that countenances subsidizing pure education for education's sake.


I read an interesting op-ed piece in the Sunday NY Times about "complexity" that mentions the work of Joseph Tainter, author of a well-known monograph, "The Collapse of Complex Societies".
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/weekinreview/02segal.html?scp=4&sq=david%20segal&st=Search

Someone marinated in the Doomer School (Kunstler, Orlov, Mike Davis, et al) immediately recognizes the familiar touchstones of pessimism. Tainter himself is less a doomer than a Gibbons-like investigator in why societies eventually fail. If you've read Jared Diamond, you know the possibility of finding uplift in failure.

This provides an advantage in looking at the American landscape of 30 to 60 years ago. We were at the apogee of national power and confidence. We were awash in cheap energy. And we were culturally unified in a Eurocentric kind of way. By the late 60s, this arrangement began to unravel.

One upshot of our cultural upheaval is the plaintiveness in asking what it means to be well-educated. No one really knows for sure anymore, and since conservatism became a politicized religion, many erstwhile guardians of tradition no longer care themselves.

Complexity was once an aspect of our secular religion, Progress. Now, it's a symptom of something darker. The political reaction on the right is maddening but probably a good sign that this country is no longer confident. Energy is no longer cheap. And what passes for cultural unity is a subset of Nostalgia Studies.

The past three decades, and the past few years in particular, have glowed with the phosphoresence of decay. I see it in Phoenix everywhere. Our go-go anti-Detroit is having problems. The pace of this decline is vertiginous. It's almost fun.

We're burning down the house in a fit of pique. Or is it more like an auto-immune disorder? Whatever, it's beyond our ability to slow, let alone stop.


Like Mr. Talton, I too graduated from Coronado in 1974. I and have no problem saying the better angels of my nature came from being influenced by my teachers at Coronado. A Latin teacher who showed us love and compassion for his wife, a head football coach and Industrial Arts teacher who taught us courage and perseverance, a Biology teacher who taught us to respect the natural world and each other. The list goes on and on.
These were not just great teachers, they were decent, dedicated human beings who thought of teaching as much more than a way to bring home a paycheck.
I look at so many of my former classmates, many of whom came from humble beginnings, and I see how they have used the lessons learned at Coronado to make the world a better place and I wonder if the educational system of today, both public and private, can produce such noble people in the numbers Coronado did.
Were we at the right place at the right time when we attended Coronado? In an age where lowering the educational bar seems to the the norm, will the schools of today produce the Jon Taltons, Teresa Rogers and Cal Jernigans of tomorrow? I have my doubts. So much of what we were taught at Coronado did not come from a book.
K.Kelley
Isaiah 61:1

Sounds like there were days when one could get a blue chip high school education in Arizona.

Going forward, assuming that the immigration hysteria subsides, we're left with the prospect of education and assimilation of tens of thousands of ESL students. Teachers indicate that some are "learning sponges" while others are borderline illiterate in their native language.

Where will we find the will or the resources to address this sad reality? And what will we do with the dropouts? And who will lament the wasted minds or lost opportunities?

Jon states that we're creating a permanent underclass. If so, we'll be paying the societal costs maybe forever. Certainly, this is a discussion worth having now . . . .

Mr. Talton has posted some Front Page links to the topic of complexity (arguing that it makes systems vulnerable), and Soleri alludes to the same argument in his comments above.

I'd like to play devil's advocate in suggesting that complexity isn't intrinsically unstable, especially in evolved systems. Consider how vastly more complex the human body is than any city, yet how (generally) robust it is.

Cities have been evolving and working out the kinks for considerably less time than nature, but in far more goal-directed ways, and can be considered organic. Cities are an expression of nature as surely as a rainforest, if cities are built by people and if people are built by nature.

Such systems are self-regulating. If oil production declines relative to demand, price goes up. When price gets too high it causes demand to decline.

All of the doomster projections are based upon an insatiable and increasing demand for oil, as by developing economies such as China and India; but if shortages cause prices to skyrocket demand will decline; and if demand declines the developing producer economies will produce less; and if they produce less their need for oil declines.

So, it isn't as much about cataclysm as about balance points; and these can shift over time and aren't always comfortable.

If a balance point is uncomfortable it brings into play another self-regulating mechanism: adaptation and innovation.

Nations which find their economies uncomfortably constrained at a balance point will have very strong economic incentives (in both private and public sectors) to develop and integrate alternative energy sources into their production and transportation systems: things like natural gas, nuclear, and solar; and more exotic possibilities like microbial production of fuel (e.g., crude oil produced by algae).

When there is a huge practical economic incentive for alternative energy sources -- when it isn't possible to coast along on momentum in the old ways -- then you will see energetic, well-funded R&D on a phenomenal scale.

Don't forget also that if alternative energy sources are more expensive than conventional sources, as they are now, then there is no economic incentive for their development and implementation: businesses are in business to maximize profits, not to be good citizens; that's why government incentives have been introduced: to make up the difference and make alternative energy attractive, at least on a limited scale, to the private sector.

When oil becomes more expensive than alternative energy sources (say, because of an oil shortage which drives up prices to a new balance point) then alternative energy will become economically attractive. Its development on a broad basis using economies of scale will make it still more economically feasible; and the desire for increased profits will drive R&D into technological and process refinements and innovations which will make it still more affordable.

The high school you describe outshines the private high school that I attended during those years. If I am left envious, then I can only imagine how the children 'sentenced' to the Arizona charter school where I briefly taught would feel if they fully understood their relative circumstance. I know that most students were disappointed with what education they were provided; but no more disappointed than the teachers who had to bear the travesty of a system that could produce such an irreparable school.

soleri said, "The pace of this decline is vertiginous." and "Whatever, it's beyond our ability to slow, let alone stop."

Perhaps, our responsibility is not to slow nor to stop the decline, but rather it is our duty to accelerate the decline by leading a hejira?

Wonderful article. The school also had a great yearbook and newspaper. Originally it was guided, taught, directed by Mrs. Dorothy Piercy. In those first years that I attended, it won many awards. I was also part of the choir, musicals and plays, including summer productions, and had been at the blunt end of Mr Hanson's wrath more than once. However, the wrath was totally understandable. He wanted excellence. If he didn't think you had it in you, he didn't waste his breath. Coronado was a great experience. Thanks for the memories.

Fred Berry
Class of '65

I also graduated in 65' as well as my husband. He taught at Coronado in the 70's and early 80's as an English teacher and football/wrestling coach. Lots and lots of memories all of them wonderful. I played in all the plays under Gene Hanson and he was a tribute to our school and society. We need more teachers like he and my husband today. We are molding tomorrow's citizens and from what I observe at my grandchildren's schools is lack of discipline and excellence. The good teachers are few and far between. Thank you for the memories, I wish all could have experienced our great school.
Linda Dahl
Class of 65'

"When oil becomes more expensive than alternative energy sources (say, because of an oil shortage which drives up prices to a new balance point) then alternative energy will become economically attractive".

Emil, I don't doubt this. The problem with alternative energy is not its viability but its replacement effectiveness in a post peak-oil environment. There are countless feedback mechanisms that places industrial civilization at risk here. The doomers believe that we will not move quickly enough to retrofit civilization once oil passes peak production and higher prices unleash inflationary whiplash and global depression.

Let's assume we move quickly enough to avert enormous population die-offs. Proactive mitigation stablilizes civilization by lowering per capita energy expenditures. How does an autocentric, high-energy sprawl form of civilization manage? Probably not very well. Arizona as we know it is the product of cheap energy. It has a reckless disregard for the costs of its current arrangements. It denies environmental constraints at nearly every juncture. For those of us who question this governing paradigm, the sense of irreality is intense.

To bring this back to the topic at hand, why did American civilization exude such confidence and optimism that it could educate its youth in some rather amazing schools like Coronado High? I would contend that cheap energy was one of the most salient factors. It certainly gave us a sense of progress, that the trammels of limitation had been cut and that progress was everyone's birthright.

The 1970s were our introduction to the opposite idea, that civilization was not a perpetual Roman candle shooting heavenward but a sputtering Vega on a potholed freeway. The political reaction benefited the deniers, the morning-in-America fantasists who shifted the debate from the idea of limits to the bankruptcy of liberalism.

Liberalism here has become synonymous not with millenialist notions of progress and human perfectibility but pragmatism and complexity. It's a managerial creed mixing technocratic and meritocratic values. Its aim, paradoxically, is not to inspire but to do what conservatism once sought to do: preserve.

American civilization is not responding well to, in Talton's phrase, The Great Disruption. It's in blind retreat from its necessary lessons. It's shouting down cap-and-trade legislation as yet another conspiracy to disentitle Americans of their divinely-ordained bounty. It's opening up vast tracts of coastal waters to oil drilling weeks before a catastrophic oil spill. It's feverishly contesting the very concept of reality in its political debates.

None of this is an accident. It's precisely because we're at Peak Oil that our civilization appears to be having a nervous breakdown. We can't help expressing these various anxieites because, as animals, we are extraordinarily sensitive to signals the rational mind does not perceive.

Pessimism, as Samuel Johnson might have said, makes a good dinner but a lousy breakfast.

Soleri wrote:

"The problem with alternative energy is not its viability but its replacement effectiveness in a post peak-oil environment."

This seems like a valid point. I'd like to think about it further. I suppose my first reaction is to say that it depends, first, on the time-scale involved. I don't know what that is and there doesn't seem to be a consensus of opinion: or if there is such a consensus, it weighs against the doomers.

Note that Colin Campbell recently expressed revised opinions:

"Peak oil drives prices up in the first place. It has its own mechanism. We're sort of at peak demand right now," Campbell told Reuters from his home in the village of Ballydehob, West Cork. "I think presently the price limit is about $100."

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE63539420100406

"How does an autocentric, high-energy sprawl form of civilization manage?"

I'm guessing a nation of electric cars by 2030.

Here's a really interesting essay by someone a lot more pessimistic than I am, who describes himself as a "former doomer". He goes through all of the doomer arguments and then gives his analysis. Despite the (misleading) name of his blog, he actually seems to agree with their basic premises -- just not their conclusions. (The political stuff about "powerdowners" is pretty goofy, but the rest is worth considering.)

http://peakoildebunked.blogspot.com/2006/07/307-confessions-of-ex-doomer.html

Note that this is nearly four years old. Here's the current home-page:

http://peakoildebunked.blogspot.com/

BTW, I want to laud Mr. Talton for allowing responsible skeptical opinion. Mr. Orlov may have his amusing stylistic quirks but he is also a tyrannical censor. I tried to post a comment to his website once which dealt only with some technicalities of Federal Reserve operations vis a vis the expansion of the money supply, but apparently even that minor quibble was too much for him because he refused to post it, telling me to try again when I was sure that I agreed with him.

(I've not had time to read any comments yet)

I've got similar memories of Auburn High School south of Seattle. I spent time in both the Orchestra and the Theater. I was also involved in sports.

One notable thing happened while I was there: The school board proposed cutting the music and arts programs at the same time they wanted to fund new football uniforms. The public voted that down! Imagine that same vote today...

Where is Jim Newcomer now? Did he also produce shows at Gammage for a few years?

Jim is retired and living in the Valley. He did theater after retiring, but I'm not sure he did anything at Gammage.

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