When The Experts Are Just Plain Wrong
'I doubt that the imagination can be suppressed. If you truly eradicated it in a child, he would grow up to be an eggplant.'
- Ursula K. Le Guin, American author (b. 1929)
'You must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on that act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium.'
- Ursula K. Le Guin, American author (b. 1929)
If these two quotes give evidence of one thing, it's that just because a person is an expert in one thing does not give him the right to believe that he is on every subject.
By virtue of the needs of his art, a writer must be a thinker. However, there is no requirement that the thinking be clear, orderly, logical or that the material presented must be truthful. We need only follow the spoutings of pastors and politicians to show that.
Members of other professions, experienced with receiving respect for their knowledge and skills within the context of their work, often come to believe that their thinking must be correct on all subjects. Engineers and architects, for example, seldom admit they don't know something. We call it arrogance when they act as if others don't know what they are talking about and hubris when they can't imagine being wrong.
As admirable as Le Guin's writings are, especially her utopian science fiction, I can't help taking issue with the two quotes that began this article. They are based on her thinking, her understanding of the world. On the subjects of education (child development) and ecology, her understanding may be of questionable value to the rest of us.
First, it's true that children do not grow into eggplants. However, many grow into adults with precious little imagination and ability to think for themselves. Consider that the average American, for example, has his television running more than five hours a day. Television, the great stupidifier, encourages people to not think by providing them with whatever the producer wants his audience to know and believe. Viewers are not allowed to think for themselves if they follow the producer's intentions.
Look at the lineup of television programs that grace (or disgrace) the screen these days and you will find faked reality shows, home videos that show people at their absolute stupidest, soap operas that demonstrate the worst in human morals and compassion and advertising designed to convince simple minds that they should become poor and unhealthy by buying the products advertised.
Not eggplants, no. But television is doing its best to bring human intelligence down to the level close to at least a smart eggplant. When the computer is the entertainment of choice, we have YouTube to show us that many people have reached that level of intelligence already.
Ursula Le Guin seems to live in a world protected from the realities of entertainment by the average person. For one thing, she reads, which gives her perspectives that non-readers never experience. Reading stimulates the imagination as television, the internet, movies and video games never can. She can't conceive of people not having an imagination. She is sadly mistaken.
As an educator who has taught young children as well as older ones, I can tell you that imagination has been all but eliminated (at least channeled) in many of them before they leave primary school. As I classroom teacher I found it hard to stimulate children to be creative in non-traditional ways.
As for ecology, Le Guin is correct that the universe is in equilibrium. However, she is dead wrong that nothing should change. Nature itself is the greatest force for change.
When one factor changes or many change as a result of natural disaster or human tragedy, nature regroups and establishes a new equilibrium.
Look what happened after the disaster 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs disappeared. Whether an asteroid struck our planet or climate change eliminated the food dinosaurs ate matters little now. What matters is that mammals succeeded them, and here we are.
Look what happened 225 million years ago when as much as 97 percent of life on land and 85 percent of life in the oceans were wiped out.
Nature adjusts. The universe establishes equilibrium with whatever conditions exist at the time. No matter if we destroyed ourselves, nature would adjust to a new equilibrium.
When Le Guin recommends that we "must not change one thing" for fear of upsetting the equilibrium she fails to understand the concept. In fact, we must change what we do that is destructive, at the least.
We need to consider as many consequences of what we do as we can possibly conceive. We will never know them all, positive or negative. We will always make mistakes and have some successes.
What's more important is that we must not let those who will profit in the future from mistakes we allow to be made today convince us that we are doing the right thing by ignoring the negative consequences of the action. As the saying goes: if something looks too good to be true, it likely is.
US wars in Iraq and Vietnam spring to mind, events costing millions of lives and trillions of dollars. With nothing gained from either but obscene wealth for suppliers of war materials and fuels. Education, meanwhile, suffers as teachers must do without more and more.
Demanding that politicians tell us the truth and the whole truth will never work. The only thing that will work is to educate all people, all children, and to promote diligence and civic responsibility actively.
Doing nothing out of fear of making mistakes and allowing the imaginations of our children to be destroyed through rigid teaching methods and strict control (consider the tragedies of Zero Tolerance, for example) do nothing to make the world a better place.
Denying the truth simply makes it worse. We teach and learn or we suffer the consequences.
Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to know what to teach children that will help their development, and when.
Learn more at http://billallin.com