No, sir, but I ain’t lost!

Put some time aside this weekend to finish my reading of We Make The Road By Walking and caught up with fellow readers’ commentary from the past couple weeks.  So many great things coming out of this insightful group, like:

Google Docs + mashup via: @cogdog & @acroom

Annotation mobs via: @telliowkuwp

An emergence of Antigonish 2.0  via: @bonstewart

Making The Conversation By Talking via: @acroom@amcollier

Some of my highlights from Chapters 3-6:

Academicians, politicians, all the people that are supposed to be guiding this country say you’ve got to be neutral. As soon as I started looking at that word neutral and what it meant, it became very obvious to me there can be no such thing as neutrality. It’s a code word for the existing system. It has nothing to do with anything but agreeing to what is and will always be-that’s what neutrality is. Neutrality is following the crowd. Neutrality is just being what the system asks us to be. Neutrality, in other words, was an immoral act … Of course, when I got more into thinking about educational ideas and about changed society, it became more and more obvious that you’ve got to take sides. You need to know why you take sides; you should be able to justify it.


I’d say if you were working with an organization and there’s a choice between the goal of that organization, or the particular program they’re working on, and educating people, developing people, helping them grow, helping them become able to analyze if there’s a choice, we’d sacrifice the goal of the organization for helping the people grow, because we think in the long run it’s a bigger contribution.


There’s a mountain story of a traveling salesman here in the mountains. He got lost and he didn’t know which way to go. He found a little boy beside the road, and he said, “Hey there son, do you know the way to Knoxville?” The boy said, “No, sir.” And he said, “Do you know the way to Gatlinburg?” “No, sir.” Well, he said, “Do you know the way to Sevier-ville?” The boy said, “No, sir.” And he said, “Boy, you don’t know much, do you?” “No, sir, but I ain’t lost!”


Starting from people’s experiences, and not from our understanding of the world, does not mean that we don’t want the people to come with us in order to go beyond us afterward. This movement for me is one of the many important roles of a progressive educator, and it is not always so easy.


Conflicts are the midwife of consciousness.


… one of the virtues we have to create in ourselves as progressive educators is the virtue of humility.


We concluded that reform within the system reinforced the system, or was co-opted by the system. Reformers didn’t change the system, they made it more palatable and justified it, made it more humane, more intelligent. We didn’t want to make that contribution to the schooling system. But we knew if we worked outside the system, we would not be recognized as educators, because an educator by definition was somebody inside the schooling system. Nevertheless, we decided we’d work outside the system and be completely free to do what we thought was the right thing to do in terms of the goals that we set for ourselves and the people we were working for.


I don’t accept that the school in itself is bad. We need to go beyond a metaphysical understanding of the school. For me the school is a social and historical institution, and in being a social and historical institution, the school can be changed. But the school can be changed not exclusively by a decree, but by a new generation of teachers, of educators who must be prepared, trained, formed.


Low periods are a good time to work out the techniques and ways of involving people, ways of having people begin to use critical judgments.


In Chapter 6 Myles makes the comment:

“Those who refuse to share their knowledge with other people are making a great mistake, because we need it all. I don’t have any problem about ideas I got from other people. If I find them useful, I’ll just ease them right in and make them my own.”

Sounds like Creative Commons …



You don’t need to know the answer …

Getting caught up with Bryan Alexander’s brilliant invitation to read and reflect on We Make The Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change over the next few weeks.  Really enjoying the reflections of a great group of folks.

I discovered the 1981 Bill Moyers interview with Myles Horton when Bryan suggested the Horton/Freire dialogue a couple weeks ago.  I decided to use the video as a jumping off point to familiarize myself with Horton as I was already familiar with the work and influence of Freire.

Listening to Horton recalled the stories and songs of Utah Phillips for me:

the essence of contract is agreement
not coercion or obedience
and agreement is sacred
what can one say? i will not obey

I read Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 today and found myself highlighting many passages from Myles:

I got to the place where I was terribly concerned about how I could relate my values to society. At that time I said it’s not important to be good, it’s important to be good for something. But, what was that something I could be good for, and how could I figure out how to be useful in society and make a contribution?

I think the problem is that most people don’t allow themselves to experiment with ideas, because they assume that they have to fit into the system. They say how can I live out these things I believe in within the capitalist system, within the subsystem of capitalism, the microcosm of capitalism, the school system and within the confines of respectability, acceptance. Consequently, they don’t allow themselves to think of any other way of doing things. I don’t think there’s anything unique in having the kind of ideas that we have. That’s kind of nickel-a- bushel stuff, I think. I just think most people can’t think outside the socially approved way of doing things and consequently don’t open up their minds to making any kind of discoveries. I think you have to think outside the conventional frameworks.

… the way you really learn is to start something and learn as you go along. You don’t have to know it in advance because if you know it in advance you kill it by clamping this down on the people you’re dealing with.

They’ve got other problems and we don’t have any answers. We didn’t have any trouble dealing with that because we were intellectually prepared and emotionally prepared. We had to do some fast shifting around though, because we still hadn’t learned how to respond to people, but we were committed to doing it. Once that commitment is made, then you do it. You do whatever it takes. We had to laugh at ourselves for thinking that we could figure out in advance what to do.

So to embolden people to act, the challenge has got to be a radical challenge. It can’t be a little simplistic reform that reformers think will help them. It’s got to be something that they know out of experience could possibly bring about a change. And we sell people like that short by assuming that they can take a little baby step and isn’t this wonderful. If they can see something that’s challenging, something that they believe would change things for them, and if they can see a path that they could move on towards that goal, then I think something can be done.

You don’t need to know the answer. You can help people get the answers. You have to know something; they know something. You have to respect their knowledge, which they don’t respect, and help them to respect their knowledge. These seeds were planted there.


“You don’t need to know the answer” is how I am approaching Bryan’s great questions for Chapters 1 and 2, but I know something for sure – Horton’s voice is resonating deeply with me.  Looking forward to reading more of the book with everyone.