I was thinking recently about the state of public education in our country. A friend of mine pointed out to me something which had always been evident to me, but for which I had never made the appropriate material to metaphorical correlation.

What I’m referring to is the architectural inspiration of our country’s first public schools in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These were mostly reddish and brown brick structures, which, when you think about it more deeply, quite resembled in appearance to the red and brown brick factories which were being built at the time, and which were the dominant motor of economic activity during that period in our history.

So essentially, our schools were, in a way, ‘education factories’, designed to churn out disciplined, obedient, compliant, respectful, and literate workers who’d go to work in the real life factories and offices, and produce goods and services for the classes of persons who, in those days, were supposed to be destined to be the consumers, that is to say, the middle-class urban professionals and business people who were supposed to have the disposable income necessary to be consumers.

The Eugenics and Social-Darwinist ideologies which supported much of this agenda of ‘improvement of society’, was largely accepted at the elite level up to and including WWII, when it fell out of favour, seeing that the Germans, led by Hitler, took it to a whole new level, and began wiping out whole strata of society, including Jews, Poles, the mentally challenged, the mentally ill, homosexuals, and Gypsies.

We were taken aback by this, and mobilized the full force of our industrial and social might to fight it. Our elites soon realized that six years of full war production had restored the economy to health, and that they had had six straight years of big profits. But how were the captains of industry going to be able to continue to stimulate high demand for raw materials and finished goods, now that the war was over, and demand for the instruments of war were now reduced, and how were they going to ensure that demand for civilian consumer goods pick up and surpass what they had been before the war?

One of the big problems for the elites who ran the consumer system, since consumerism had begun in the 1880s was how to have mass production and mass consumption at the same time. There had always been a chronic oversupply of goods, with not enough consumers with enough purchasing power to buy them. This had been caused by the above-mentioned ideologies of Social-Darwinism and Eugenics, which basically, in a nutshell, said that certain classes of people were genetically superior and others were inferior, and that it was therefore useless to even try to raise up those at the bottom out of their misery, because it was a waste of time.

This was an excuse throughout the period in question to deny working class people an increase in wages and improvements in working conditions. Eventually, people, many of them women, who had a social conscience, fought back, and won improvements in the lot of these people, culminating with the adoption of the so-called ‘Fordist Wage Scale’ in many sectors of the economy after the war (both public and private). This was the theory, pioneered by Henry Ford, that if you paid your workers enough money to actually buy the goods they were producing, they’d be grateful for it, and would immediately use some of their savings and re-inject some of their newfound purchasing power into the economy to buy some of the goods they were producing.

This is eventually what happened, as our society, entered its period of unto-then unheard-of material prosperity. A funny thing started to happen then to our schools, though. If one takes a good look at the architectural style of our schools in the post WWII period, as we went from a more industrial , ‘producer’ economy with less consumption, to a more ‘consumer’-based economy, with factories eventually shutting down in the 1980s onwards, our schools have begun to resemble more and more the types of buildings where our young people increasingly spend most of their time hanging out and at the ‘temple’ where they ‘worship’ most often and with the most fervour: The shopping mall!

Yup. Our schools more and more resemble malls and big box stores, complete with food court-style cafeterias with junk food menus and so on. So we’ve gone from producing ‘producer peons’ to producing ‘consumer peons’ within just a couple of generations, with the goods that the ‘consumers’, now consume now produced by ‘producer peons’ in far off lands someplace else and shipped here by boat at great expense.

So are we all that much more advanced or better off? Are we any more spiritually enriched by this immense cornucopia of material bounty? I can’t help but think how much more simple life was only about a half century ago, not to mention another half century. We didn’t live as long, but we didn’t have as many distractions and we mostly lived together all as extended families.

This system must’ve fallen apart for a good reason. Everything happens for a reason. Nothing happens for no reason. Somebody must’ve not been getting much benefit from the old system. I get the impression it was women. Now they want the benefits of everything, and we all have to adjust. The problem is that not everybody is happy about it, and not everybody is adjusting or thinks that it should be their place to adjust. Myself personally I really don’t know where this new world order is taking us in the west. I don’t know how the social fabric is going to reknit itself in the face of all the radical shifts that are being made in society at the moment.

How are we to come to any sort of workable consensus about any issue, if nobody can even agree about what constitutes a family, or whether or not God exists, or if we should call Him He or She, or anything at all? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What about accommodating a growing traditionalist Christian counterculture within an increasingly secular, ‘progressive’ mainstream? The two just seem to be worlds apart in their bipolarity.

Regardless of whether we crank out ‘industrial, producer peons’, or ‘post-modern, consumer peons’ with our system of public education, one thing remains: We still have to all learn to live with each other, and somehow remain in a state of grace every day. For this, I ask the God of my understanding for knowledge of His will for me and the power to carry it out on a daily basis, not to mention the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. With that, I think I can get through just about any day. So far I’m doing OK. How about you?

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