In April of this year, John Stossel wrote a thought provoking article about the ability of never quitting as being the reason America has been successful.
I quote him here:
In the USA, it’s OK to fail and fail and try again. In most of Europe and much of the world, the attitude is: You had your shot, you failed, and now you should just go work for someone else.
But this limits the possibilities. And some of America’s biggest successes came from people who failed often.
We know that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, but few people know that Edison filed 1,000 patents for ideas that went nowhere. He was fired by the telegraph office. He lost money investing in a cement company and an iron business.
Henry Ford’s first company failed completely.
Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected by 27 publishers.
Oprah was fired from her first job as a reporter. A TV station called her “unfit for TV.”
But they all kept striving — and succeeded. They were lucky to live in America, where investors and your neighbors encourage you to try and try again. We are lucky to benefit from their persistence.
But those happy experiments are less likely to happen today. Now there are many more rules, and regulators add hundreds of pages of new ones every week.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban left school with no money and no job prospects. He managed to become a billionaire by creating several businesses from scratch. I asked him if he could do it again today, and he said, “No … now there’s so much paperwork and regulation, so many things that you have to sign up for that you have a better chance of getting in trouble than you do of being successful.”
It’s not just big corporations that get hassled by regulators, the way progressives might like to imagine.
Kids’ lemonade stands — and one I tried to open in New York City — are sometimes shut down for not having proper business licenses.
When Chloe Stirling was 11-years-old, health officials shut down her home cupcake-making business.
The more government “protects” us, the more it puts obstacles in the way of trying new things. It does that every time it taxes, regulates and standardizes the way things are done. Simultaneously, government offers “compassion” — welfare and unemployment benefits.
Faced with the choice of collecting unemployment or putting your own money at risk and hiring an army of lawyers to deal with business regulations, I understand why people don’t bother trying. When that attitude is pervasive, the American dream dies.
On my TV show this week, economist David Goldman says, “The U.S. government has done everything possible to make it hard for people to take a new idea from inception to startup to expansion.” He says that when he told a former CEO that he was going to be on my show, the ex-CEO said: “Just tell them to shut Washington down. That’s all they need to do!”
Washington won’t shut down. But couldn’t regulators just chill out for a while?
Big government doesn’t send us the message that we can make it on our own and that great things may happen if we dare to try. Government mostly hinders us, and then brags that it is waiting to take charge when we fail.
I believe that the American Dream can still become the American REALITY!
But it requires a singular mindset. We have to be willing to work hard and do things that we are not used to. It demands personal responsibility for our own outcomes and doing some double duty (working at more than one thing at a time). And we will have to spend less time watching “American Idol” and more time developing our ideas and taking educated risks.
170 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville stated that, “[Americans] are constantly excited by two conflicting passions: they want to be led, and they wish to remain free. . . “
Tocqueville was very clear, it is impossible to reach our potential without taking complete responsibility for our actions and owning our current conditions.
I have spent the entirety of 2014 to this point, speaking anywhere people would listen regarding this very issue and then offering solutions that the average American could engage to turn the situation around.
My main message has been that there is no political liberty without financial liberty and to engage in financial liberty or FREE ENTERPRISE, there must exist a certain level of political liberty.
One of my mentors, Cleon Skousen, always taught that the magic of America was that the citizens, free from government intervention, had the right to try, buy, sell and fail. And if you tried enough times, you would most likely succeed.
Today that philosophy has been replaced with that of avoiding risk at all cost and being safe and working for the government or a big multi-national corporation.
This sounds more like a personal wealth death sentence.
To have the kind of financial health that will allow a citizen to engage in liberty of all kinds requires enough residual income to meet all day-to-day living expenses plus 30% to provide citizenship activity flexibility (donations to or promotion of liberty causes or time spent at the state or federal legislature or local political service or speaking and writing, etc).
[Residual income, is income that continues to be generated after the initial effort or cost has been expended. Royalties or rent income for example, are types of residual income.]
For example, if your living expenses are $4,000 per month, you will need a minimum of $6,300 of monthly residual income or $76,000 per year (approximately 20% for taxation and $1,200 for liberty flexibility) to be economically independent and able to engage in liberty.
There is no longer any question, America faces a multiple front crisis; a serious retirement crisis along with a potentially disastrous national and personal debt crisis.
Most Americans recall the devastation caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. We sat in utter horror and even screamed at our computer screens as we helplessly watched people being swept away by the unrelenting waters.
The financial crisis we face today is no less menacing. The current financial tsunami is acting very much like the event of 2004. As the economic tide recedes, we watch not in horror but in curiosity or even total oblivion. The entire nation appears to be suffering from Normalcy Bias,* denying or ignoring that a crisis exists at all. All the while, the water has reversed and is now up around our ankles.
What needs to happen is that real men and women need to face their fears, be responsible and be willing to determinedly taking control of their own destinies.
If we yearn for our children and grandchildren to enjoy the freedoms that we do today, developing this level of Financial Freedom Health is a moral and familial imperative.
Take the Financial Freedom Health/Education Assessment and see how prepared you are to perpetuate financial and political freedom.
Financial Freedom Health/Education Assessment
- Do you have an adequate retirement plan? (Based on the $76,000 residual annual income discussed above, this means a $1,750,000 nest egg with a 4% annual dividend. Using the accumulation method at 7.9% earned interest annually, this will require retirement plan installment payments of $1,215 each month for 30 years. A business or a properly acquired real estate portfolio can accomplish the same residual income in a much shorter time and in a safer manner).
- If your current retirement plan is not adequate, do you have the skills and resources to correct it?
- Have you done sufficient research to really know if your retirement plan is crisis proof?
- Do you review your retirement plan semi-annually? Are staying up-to-date on all law and policy changes that could impact your retirement plan and investments?
- Do you have enough knowledge to trust your retirement providers or are you “blindly”trusting them?
- Do you have a will or living will or a revocable trust in place? Why? Have you explored all options?
- Do you have your investments protected as much as law will allow? Are you sure?
If any of these questions are troubling to you, click here to begin a free course on financial freedom.
In the USA, it used to be OK to fail and fail and try again.
Before Harland Sanders became world-famous Colonel Sanders, he was a sixth-grade dropout, a farmhand, an army mule-tender, a locomotive fireman, a railroad worker, an aspiring lawyer, an insurance salesman, a ferryboat entrepreneur, a tire salesman, an amateur obstetrician, an (unsuccessful) political candidate, a gas station operator, a motel operator and finally, a restaurateur.
At the age of 65, a new interstate highway snatched the traffic away from his Corbin, Ky., restaurant and Sanders was left with nothing but a Social Security check and a secret recipe for fried chicken.
As it turned out, that was all he needed.
If you, like Colonel Sanders, refuse to give up on the American Dream, click here to start your American Dream education.
* Normalcy bias refers to a mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster occurring and its possible effects. This may result in situations where people fail to adequately prepare for a disaster, and on a larger scale, the failure of governments to include the populace in its disaster preparations.
Historically, most American institutions of higher education struggled to fund themselves. Non-profit institutions did not generally have mechanisms for generating revenue. Thus they relied on tuition, donations, and an endowment.
Harvard, America’s first school, suffered this same fate. In 1636, without any endowment (the gift from John Harvard, the school’s name sake was quickly squandered) the college opened it doors but due to lack of finances, it wasn’t long before they closed those doors, reopening later and repeating the process several times in its early history.
In 1642 Harvard’s president, thirty year-old Henry Dunster, went on a fund raising tour and secured enough “in-kind” subscriptions called “colledge corne,” from local county residents to stabilize the finances.
But those subscriptions petered out in less than a decade.
Citizen subscriptions, sparce local taxes, donations, tuition, and endowments are how higher education was funded from 1636 until the early 1900’s.
By the end of WWII, the G.I. Bill became the popular means of funding higher education.
In 1965, the Johnson administration implemented the HEA (Higher Education Act), which served to help the poor and significantly increased the college population, but it also started the trend that we all now face– sky-rocketing tuition rates. By 1972 Pell Grants and ever popular student loans were added to the funding options provided to low and middle income students.
Since federal funded tuition was swelling the ranks of higher education, the government determined that it now had to regulate that which it was funding.
Accreditation morphed from a system of academic equivalence to the gate keeper of all higher academia, whether your students were receiving federal funds or not. (See the Monticello College white paper to determine if all of this money has improved the quality of higher education today.)
At Monticello College, we take a firm stand in not accepting a single dollar of federal money. We neither desire federal assistance nor do we ask for its oversight. But after 5 decades of Americans on the educational dole, the average family does not have the funds to pay for tuition out of pocket. We have lost the concept of pay-our-own-way.
As a result, Monticello College must find creative ways to fund our operations and build our endowment.
Strongbrook is a real estate investment company with a unique 21st century approach to building client investment portfolio’s.
Probably the best explanation I have every heard comes from a 22-year-old college student video.
In an effort to funding the school, Monticello College has entered into a loose association with Strongbrook introducing the benefits offered by this exceptional company to our friends and supporters.
Not only can Strongbrook assist families in securing a strong and vibrant economic future, it helps to create the means to provide funds for student tuition. Monticello College is also investing into a Strongbrook financial Game Plan with the intention of securing enough investment property to fully fund our endowment.
Click Here to watch a short video to learn more.
Click Here for a Free PDF book or audio book. (Passcode is….FREE)
Since launching in 2007, Strongbrook has helped more than 2,500 investors across 47 states invest profitably in real estate — during the worst recession we’ll see in our lifetimes.
In fact, their investors averaged a 19.8 percent return last year, despite the continued recession.
Meet real Strongbrook investors and hear their stories by watching this video:
P.S. I appreciate that this funding approach may seem unusual or even uncomfortable to some of you. All change is uncomfortable. And higher education is changing before our very eyes. Technology is having as much impact on higher education as it has had on everything else.
In a Fourth Turning world nothing remains the same.
Give us a fair chance to show you some things you may not know. Take the time to watch the videos or read the MC white paper or free books offered or click here to get an awesome education in financial freedom called Financial Freedom 2.0. At the very least, you will learn some things you didn’t know. In the best case scenario, this could change your entire financial future.
I’ve been angry for a while now.
When I turned 50, I took pause and reflected on my life, presuming that I was at the halfway point (yes, I intend to live to see 100).
I thought about my childhood in the 60’s and early 70’s.
I reminisced my high school years and realized that my topsy-turvy life to that point had pretty well mirrored the turbulence of the era.
I remembered my fear of possibly being drafted into the Vietnam Conflict (I missed it by several years, but the possibility still seemed very real at the age of 15) and my full participation in the Cold War aboard a nuclear submarine shadowing Soviet ships of war.
Shortly after my military discharge, I became painfully aware of the poor state of my country and just how much had been lost, and I dedicated the balance of my life to the restoration of the America given us by her founders.
But then came 9/11 and the torrent of bad choices made by the American citizenry and its political leaders following that tragedy. The Patriot Act, the continuation of wars that we could never hope to win with the adopted management policies—that were and still are being used—the gargantuan unjustified economic bailouts and the rapid decline of the US dollar by the alarming leadership of the Federal Reserve, and the unabashed implementation of socialized medicine by all three branches of the federal government destroying any hope of restoring liberty and personal responsibility.
So by the beginning of 2011, I was disgusted with our “stage four” situation and began contemplating what could be done about it. Obviously, there was no political party to look to, and political activism by concerned citizens was having no more real impact than it had during the previous two decades.
By 2013, the pain I was feeling in my heart about the decline of my country began to turn to indignation towards those responsible for leading my country down this slippery slope. Short of building our college and impacting a few hundred students a year, for which I still feel very determined, I felt powerless regarding the country at large until fate brought a few outstanding individuals into my life that sparked some real creativity, turing my indignation into a steady slow fury, and leading to my current process of thinking. What follows is that process.
Considered one of the ten most influential books in the United States, Man’s Search for Meaning, has sold over 10 million copies and has been translated into 24 languages.
In this pivotal volume, Viktor Frankl chronicles his experiences as an Auschwitz concentration camp inmate during World War II.
At one point he states that freedom is a dangerous and destructive force unless it is tempered or harnessed by personal responsibility.
Think of it—without an active, personal sense of responsibility, the almost proprietary concept of American freedom could actually be a destructive force that does harm and diminishes human dignity.
The message of this series of posts is—freedom—political, economic, religious, gender, and racial.
My goal is to give you a lot to think about, and to motivate you to make some changes in your current approach to financial and political autonomy.
This is not another rant about politics, political parties, or Washington discord; as much as those topics might warrant another hearing.
I respect and honor all actively involved citizens regardless their political leanings because the greatest act of citizenship and the strongest check on abusive government is the actively involved citizen.
I do not see others with different political views from mine as the problem. The problem—are those who do nothing.
This post is about the attack on the American family and the millions who allow it to happen by default. I am choosing the word “attack” because whether is it intentional or not, the end result of American politics today is the serious assault on small business owners and the American family. And the majority of the country is watching it happen without lifting a finger. Few would disagree when I say that the fault is our adulterated political system and its political parties.
Speaking of political parties—which party is safeguarding the sanctity and financial stability of the family? Which party?
Neither. Unless you see more and more government subsidy as the right solution.
Which party puts the interests of our children ahead of their own power struggles?
Neither. In fact, both republicans and democrats are heavily promoting an educational system that seems more interested in mining student and family data than preparing our children for successful, secure, and happy futures.
Both parties continue to pass mountains of law that make it harder and harder to provide an honest family living. As true as this is, it could not be happening if the majority of Americans took a stand against it.
So why are most Americans standing idly by watching the destruction of our once most beloved nation? That is the question that I want to take a few posts to explore.
America is sick. The test results are back and they confirm that our beloved nation is suffering from a potentially fatal illness called Enervation. Enervation is the lack of desire or the inability to do those things that must be done to protect ourselves and our families from corporate and/or governmental abuse.
To give you an example, let’s talk about the adoption of Universal Health Care! Or Obamacare! Or The Affordable Healthcare Act! Whatever you want to call it.
There are two clear opinions. You either love it or you hate it.
But that’s not the problem.
The problem is that in a democratic society like ours, these kinds of things should be part of the daily discourse. Something this divisive should stimulate tons of adult dialogue, sit-ins, shaved heads, local political debates, protests…And on both sides of the aisle.
Where is the heated and loyal support in favor of such a social remedy? Where are the avid public supporters of Universal Health Care? On the other hand, where is the public outrage against such a measure? Where are the protests? Those against this law should not rest until it has been abolished. Those in favor should stay vigilant against it being over turned.
The illness of Enervation from which America suffers is a lack of political will. Political will or political autonomy is a by-product of personal responsibility. When we cease to be personally responsible for our surroundings and our communities—our reality, we lose power to maintain or change it.
But how do we lose our sense of personal responsibility? The loss of personal responsibility occurs when we lose our financial autonomy. How does this happen? How do the citizens of a nation with the greatest system of government and the most freedoms of any nation on earth, become so apathetic?
To answer this I want to share some predictions from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy In America. In the 1830’s during his first American tour, Tocqueville, a French aristocrat and jurist said that if Americans did not vigilantly guard their freedoms through personal responsibility, they would lose them
[Americans] are constantly excited by two conflicting passions: they want to be led, and they wish to remain free.
As they cannot destroy either the one or the other of these contrary propensities, they strive to satisfy them both at once.
They devise a sole, tutelary [guardian], and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people.
They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty; this gives them a respite: they console themselves for being in tutelage [guardianship] by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians.
In other words, because Americans wanted to avoid personal responsibility, Tocqueville predicted that they would create governmental institutions that would protect them from cradle to grave. But because they wished to remain free, they would naively believe that by retaining the power of suffrage they could control the very individuals who would keep them in this enervative state.
Tocqueville uses the term “guardian” several times, so I looked it up to get a better perspective:
A person lawfully invested with the power, and charged with the duty, of taking care of a person and managing the property and rights of another person, who for defect of age, understanding, or self-control, is considered incapable of administering his own affairs. – Black’s law Dictionary, 6th edition
According to Tocqueville over 170 years ago, government dependence leads to the eventual need for 100% federal guardianship including health care to housing to food to personal finances. When Financial Autonomy is gone, our sense of personal responsibility weakens and shrivels. Shrinking personal responsibility will always lead to a lack of political will.
Since 87% of all American hate their jobs and the vast majority are experts at living Clason’s law (living above one’s income), the average American finds themselves in financial “survival mode” and feels little hope of securing the American Dream of Financial Autonomy. As they cannot succeed at providing properly for themselves, they cannot even conceive of how to help others or the nation at large.
Watch for part 2
This post is one that will separate our readers into two groups. You will either read it and say, “wow, that makes so much sense, I see why Monticello College has a farm and teaches the manual arts,” or you will read a part of it, become bored, and drift toward leaving the site.
Either way, I strongly encourage you to stay the course and read this post to the end.
Joe Salatin, in his book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal, writes a very compelling argument (for the first group) supporting the return to common sense and being grounded.
He starts on page 36:
One of my messages in this book is to try to awaken a thirst and hunger for some basic food and farming knowledge before our appetite for cerebral and academic techno-subjects crowds out all of this historically normal knowledge.
Wouldn’t it be as valuable to go process your Thanksgiving turkey, or at least spend some time with it in the field, as it is to face-paint your five-year-old and stick colored feather shaped construction paper in her hair?
Farms and food production should be, I submit, at least as important as who pierced their navel in Hollywood this week.
Please tell me I’m not the only one who believes this. Please.
As a culture, we think we’re well educated, but I’m not sure that what we’ve learned necessarily helps us survive.
I’m talking about the skills and knowledge contained, for example, in the Foxfire books. The back-to-the-land books of the hippie era are still some of the best living manuals out there.
Country craft and farmsteading enjoy an interest revival every time things look bleak. To me, it seems prudent to acquaint ourselves with some of this information before a meltdown occurs.
A rudimentary, basic knowledge of things won’t crowd out celebrity information or keep us from knowing how to use a cell phone. Trust me, it won’t.
I love people, and I love learning. And it seems to me that an educated person should know a few basic things about farm ecology. Not much, just a little. I offer the next examples in the spirit of explanation.
“You don’t have roosters with your laying hens? How do they lay eggs?” Dear folks, chickens don’t need roosters to lay eggs.
They need roosters to hatch eggs, but not to lay them. Just like women don’t need men to lay eggs; they just need a man to hatch one.
A mere century ago, not one in a hundred would have been ignorant of this common agrarian knowledge.
The next common one: “oh, there’s the bull, ‘cause he has horns.” Dear hearts, horns do not make a bull. It ain’t what’s on top of the head that counts. It’s what’s between the legs. I don’t know if horns have anything to do with horniness, but they sure don’t have anything to do with masculinity.
A farmer friend of mine told me recently about a bus load of middle school children who came to his farm for a tour.
The first two boys off the bus asked, “Where is the salsa tree?” They thought they could go pick salsa, like apple and peaches.
Oh my. What do they put on SAT tests to measure this? Does anybody care?
How little can a person know about food and still make educated decisions about it? Is this knowledge going to change before they enter the voting booth? Now that’s a scary thought.
Do you know the difference between hay and straw? Straw is the stalk and leaves of a small grain plant. Stover is the leftovers of a corn plant. Hay is solar-dried forage. In order to get hay equally dried, it is windrowed to let the air blow through it and get the underneath leaves turned up to the drying sun.
A windrow is a long tube of hay. A baler picks up the windrow and forms the hay into packages; round bales, little square bales, little round bales, or large square bales. Each of these has a different machine and different reason for use.
How do you herd cows? Cows have a flight zone. Since their eyes are on the sides of their head, they have far more peripheral vision than people.
They can see about 300 degrees around themselves. If we could do that, it would be equivalent to having eyes in the back of our heads.
Depending on our approach to the cow, she either wants to go past us, turn around and stand off at us, or turn tail and run away. All these responses are a result of how we approach her flight zone.
Trees grow out, not up. They only grow up right at their buds. That is why you can put a rope on a tree and it stays at the same height. Once bark forms, the height does not change.
The cambium grows the tree horizontally, in diameter, but not vertically.
Otherwise, that hammock we stretched between those two trees this year would be a foot higher next year and a foot higher a year after that. Wouldn’t that be funny?
Farmers speak in precise language. A cow is a female who has had two calves. A first-calf heifer is a female who has had only one calf. A heifer is a female who has not calved. A bred heifer is a female who is pregnant but has not yet calved. A bull calf is a young uncastrated male.
A bull is an uncastrated male old enough to bred—and that is far from full-grown, believe me. A calf is an unweaned bovine of either sex. A heifer calf is a female calf; a bull calf is a male calf. A stocker is a weaned calf prior to finishing. A finisher is a calf almost big enough to slaughter—it’s being finished.
An open cow is one that is not pregnant. A dry cow is nonlactating. A fresh cow is one that has very recently calved, and a freshening cow is one that is just about to calve. A bull can cover (bred) about thirty to fifty cows.
Folks, that just cows. And believe it or not, virtually every American knew all this lingo a scant century ago. Every species has this same level of nomenclature.
Not long ago, common knowledge included the difference between a wether (castrated male sheep) and a ram (breeding age male sheep). A ram lamb and ewe lamb.
[Blogger’s Note: Several of these words show up in spell check as misspellings, have we strayed that far?]
A shoat (castrated male pig) and a gilt (unbred female pig). Sow and boar.
And then you have the whole grouping thing: herd, flock, gaggle (geese).
And if that’s not enough, the birthing takes on distinctives: cows calve, sheep lamb, rabbits kindle, hogs farrow, horses foal.
Can you name four vegetables that grow underground? Potatoes, carrots, beets, salsify, parsnips, turnips. How about four that grow above ground? Corn, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, green beans, lettuce, peas, melons, squash, cucumber. Tomatoes are a fruit.
Which vegetables can handle frost? Which ones have to be planted after frost? Which ones are legumes? Which ones grow tall? Which ones need trellises? Which ones are perennials? Asparagus, rhubarb.
Everywhere children and gardening mix, the enthusiasm for learning this heritage agrarian knowledge is insatiable. To interact with nature and food in this visceral functional way is foundational to developing common sense.
When people lose touch with these cornerstones of existence, their thinking gets all screwy. Staying grounded, very literally, and staying anchored in sensibleness require relationships with food production.
Along with our academic and leadership goals, Monticello College has the goal of instilling common sense into each and every student by helping them develop a solid relationship with nature and food production.
This post is a tribute to Earl Shorris, one of my favorite writers on education who passed away in 2012. I am reprinting the April 16, 2013 Wall Street Journal Book Review of his latest book, The Art of Freedom. This piece was written by Naomi Schaefer Riley.
In The Art of Freedom, Earl Shorris describes his efforts to establish a set of courses that would teach the core texts of Western civilization to people living in poverty, whose school experience had scanted the canon or skipped it entirely.
Almost two decades ago, Earl Shorris, a novelist and journalist, told the editor at his publishing house that he wanted to write a book about poverty in America.
The editor, to his credit, said that he didn’t want just another book describing the problem. He wanted a solution.
So Shorris, who had attended the University of Chicago on a scholarship many years before and who was greatly influenced by its Great Books curriculum, hit upon the idea of teaching the core texts of Western civilization to people living in poverty, whose school experience had scanted the canon or skipped it entirely.
His Eureka moment came when he was visiting a prison and conducting interviews for another book he was planning to write.
He asked one of the women at New York’s Bedford Hills maximum security prison why she thought the poor were poor.
“Because they don’t have the moral life of downtown,” shereplied. “What do you mean by the moral life?” Shorris asked.
“You got to begin with the children . . . ,” she said. “You’ve got to teach the moral life of downtown to the children.
And the way you do that, Earl, is by taking them downtown to plays, museums, concerts, lectures.”
He asked whether she meant the humanities. Looking at him as if he were, as he puts it, “the stupidest man on earth,” she replied: “Yes, Earl, the humanities.”
Poverty, Shorris concluded, was a condition that required more than jobs or money to put right. So he set out to offer the “moral life” as well. Beginning with a class of 25 or so students found through a social service agency in New York, Shorris—along with a few professors he had recruited—taught literature, art history and philosophy. The first classes included readings in Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides and Sophocles.
Thus was born the Clemente Course in the Humanities, which is now the recipient of broad philanthropic support.
It is offered to the poor in more than 20 cities around the United States, as well as in other countries, from South Korea to Canada.
“The Art of Freedom” is a narrative of the program’s founding experience as well as a meditation on the Western classics and their effects on readers.
The book, sadly, appears posthumously. Shorris died last year at the age of 75.
The idea of the Clemente Course—named for Roberto Clemente, the baseball player who gave his name to the Manhattan community center where the course debuted—was to “educate a self-selected group of adults living in poverty,” in classes taught by professors from nearby colleges and universities.
The spirit of the Great Books program was a key part of the idea: There would be no chasing after trendy reading lists or narrow relevance. When Shorris went to recruit students in the South Bronx, in New York City, a white social worker asked him if he were going to teach African history. “No,” he said. “We will teach American history. Of course the history of black people is very important in the development of the United States.”
Over time, Shorris began to add texts from the various cultures where the course was being offered—Native American myths, South Korean novels.
But his focus on the Western classics was refreshingly relentless. He was accused of “cultural imperialism,” but the charge didn’t seem to faze him.
The Clemente Course now taught in Darfur, in the Sudan, teaches John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty.”
Shorris had no patience for mediocrity in his project and insisted on only the best professors to teach Clemente’s classes. When he had to find staff to teach in Chicago, he writes, “neither Chicago State nor the nearby community college . . . were up to the standards of the Clemente Course.”
In the classes he taught, he addressed his students with “Mr.” or “Ms.” He believed that a proper form of address conveys dignity and avoids the kind of casual relationship that most universities want their students and professors to have.
The Clemente Course differs from life at universities in other ways—for instance, by taking the Western classics seriously. How many college graduates have read Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides and Mill?
It also differs in its sense of what the texts can do.
Much of the liberal arts curriculum in universities today is devoted to learning about oppression of one sort or another, but Shorris argued that the study of the humanities is a fundamentally optimistic endeavor.
Not that Clemente texts are routinely cheery or anodyne.
Shorris himself taught Dostoevsky, “the brilliant archeologist who dared to make us look deep into our dark sides.” But Shorris did feel that, by reading and discussing classic texts, life was better or richer in some fundamental sense: more valued, more hopeful, more free.
One way that the humanities can help the poor in particular, according to Shorris, is by making them more “political.
” But, he writes, “I don’t mean ‘political’ in the sense of voting in an election, but in the way Pericles used the word: to mean activity with other people at every level, from the family to the neighborhood to the broader community to the city-state.”
The humanities, he tells his first class, “are a foundation for getting along in the world, for thinking, for learning to reflect on the world instead of just reacting to whatever force is turned against you.”
Shorris recounts the story of a young man in his first class—a 24-year-old with a history of violent behavior—who called him describing how a woman at work had provoked him. “She made me so mad, I wanted to smack her up against the wall.
I tried to talk to some friends to calm myself down a little, but nobody was around.” Shorris asked him what he did, “fearing this was his one telephone call from the city jail.” Instead, he told Shorris, “I asked myself, ‘What would Socrates do?’ ”
This article once again makes the point of how simple and deep education should be. Our efforts at Monticello College are inspired by the work of people such as Earl Shorris, Louise Cowan (a great educator and founding fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture), Viniece Walker (the insightful Bedford prison inmate) and the hundreds of other Liberal Arts advocates who understand the vital necessity of the classics to our culture and our civilization.
We have spent considerable space in these posts discussing education, particularly the liberal arts.
This post is dedicated to the lesser known side of our curriculum—the manual arts.
Manual arts are not something that the average American thinks about in the 21st century.
But a hundred years ago, the vast majority of Americans were engaged in the manual arts everyday.
In fact, excluding the last 60 years of developed nations, manual arts were the reality for nearly the entire global population. Even now, most of the seven billion inhabitants on earth engage in the manual arts daily.
Without the manual arts, most of what we enjoy almost unconsciously, would not exist. In our high-tech, synthetic, and artificial world, we have reached a “roman” sense of existence—the only difference from then to now—we just have more sophisticated slaves.*
In a very thought-provoking article by Oliver DeMille, The Future of American Education: 8 Trends Every Parent Should Understand, DeMille gives us a glimpse of what we have become:
Since 2001 a number of social commentators have noted that as a society we are outsourcing more and more of the things that were typically done by families (one of the best works on this is The Future of Business by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich).
For example, the following list includes things done almost entirely by families in the year 1900:
Reading Bedtime Stories
Taking Care of Animals
The list has changed in the past century, and the victim has been the family. Perhaps the “Big 5” on the list are:
Childcare, which has been outsourced, especially in urban America, to professional childcare institutions.
Food Preparation, which has been outsourced to fast food and pre-packaged meals. For example, 1999 was the first year in which expenditures in the U.S. for fast food exceeded expenditures for groceries.
Entertainment, which used to consist of families reading together or activities like group picnics and outings. Today, even when families are together, they usually sit facing away from each other toward a television, movie screen, or sporting event.
Teaching Religion, which was once seen as the role of parents with the preacher lending a helping hand, is now almost entirely outsourced to the pastor or Sunday school teacher or to some secular alternative.
Education, which historically was overseen by parents who hired and evaluated teachers and did much of the instruction themselves, has now been almost fully outsourced to “the experts.”
Another huge trend, which already has drastic consequences that are only beginning to be understood, is the outsourcing of counseling between husband and wife (discussion of their fears, anxieties, worries and fondest dreams) to expert counselors.
Perhaps the 54% divorce rate in the U.S. is connected to this; as Allan Bloom** pointed out in 1987, people live, sleep and sometimes eat together, but they don’t think, dream and work together toward a common goal in the same way that our grandparents did. This delegation of intimacy to the experts may yet be the biggest trend of all.
And what is the impact of using videos or DVDs in the place of reading bedtime stories to toddlers? The outsourcing of our families and the things only families can do well is a growing trend, and a very sobering commentary on the future of our society.
Historians might compare it to the fateful practice among French women in the 1750s-1780s of not nursing their own children—of instead turning them over to wet nurses. Few would argue that this was the only cause of the bloodbath and societal fall in the French Revolution in the 1780s, but almost everyone agrees that this was a significant part of it.
So, with all these duties being outsourced, what is left that only the family can do? According to the new economy – nothing. The leading view today is that “It Takes a Village,” that even love can be outsourced to teachers, coaches, clubs, and mentors.
The truth is that it does take a village, a community, but a community of families working, playing, cooperating and facing obstacles together, not a community of government institutions.
This idea of outsourcing seems to be a national pastime, albeit there does appear to be a small underground resurgence of the manual arts illustrated by websites such as theurbanfarmingguys.com.
One of the reasons we have disowned the use of the manual arts is due to the steady progression of technology. The advent of labor saving devices (LSDs) has improved our lives in many ways. It has also been the underlying source of a whole host of sedentary lifestyle diseases. Where is the balance?
Labor saving devises or the greater concept of saving labor has an interesting history.
From the advent of the Industrial Revolution, saving labor changed the world from mere survival to producing a cash crop beyond subsistence or allowing a farmer increased discretionary time for more favored pursuits.
By the 1970s the workingman was able to produce much more with a fraction of the backbreaking labor required a century before which stabilized into a 40-hour work-week…increasing discretionary time even further.
It also freed the American housewife of many undesirable chores, and like her spouse, freed up significant “my time”…but to what end?
If it was to allow them to relax a little more, no harm down. If it permitted more time to give to others or to develop talents that would be good too, but unfortunately for most of people, it led to their less ambitious side with copious amounts of time being devoted to the latest entertainment and diversion– Television– late morning and afternoon soap opera TV series such as the “Dark Shadows” or “General Hospital”, and time devouring shows such as “The Price is Right.”
It allowed them more time to engage in recreation and entertainment on the weekends, often ignoring family, relationships, and service to neighbors, and expanding into long weekends which monopolized the traditional Sabbath for non-Sabbath day activities.
By the 1990s we were thoroughly absorbed by a numbing consumerism, life had gotten pretty easy so labor saving was really no longer the goal, but keeping up with the “Jones,” and securing the latest fashions or gadget, or the newest car, or a bigger house was—this really exploded with the advent of computer technology, gaming, and home entertainment from the late 1990s to the present.
The latest chapter in our American LSDs story is resulting in skyrocketing obesity— 70% of all adults and 30% of children in America suffer from poor health and diseases not seen two decades ago.
According to Popular Mechanics (2011), every man should possess certain basic manual art skills.
They provided a list for men to become more manly, clearly an indication that males no longer possess these skills.
Removing anything on the list that was technology related, I am including the remaining 16 manual arts that the modern man has apparently lost:
1. Sharpen a knife
2. Patch a radiator hose
3.Frame a wall
4. Back-up a trailer
5. Build campfire
6. Use an ax properly to chop wood
7. Fix a dead outlet
8. Navigate with a compass and map
9. Fillet a fish
10. Get a car unstuck
11. Paint a room
12. Mix concrete
13. Clean a gun
14. Change oil in a car (and know that the filter needs to be changed too)
15. Paddle a canoe
16. Fix a bike flat
While writing this post, my 22-year-old daughter looked over my shoulder, saw the topic and stated that of her closest 15 male friends ( ages 20-30) only one had competency with all the items on this list. Things that four decades ago any self-respecting man did himself–only specialists can handle today.
Today there are 184 million active facebook users in America (that’s 60% of our entire population) spending more than two hours a week on facebook, but if you factor in all online activities (all social media, all gaming, all youtube viewing and other online videos, etc) the percentage sky rockets to almost 25% of our awake time.
For the average American over the age of 16 that can be as much as five hours a day, every day or the equivalent of an entire work week per month. This does not include texting, and playing games on our iphones.
This is all time wherein we are distracted from our loved ones, our community and our social responsibilities.
How do we not see that this is a monumental waste of our national resource of labor, not to mention a decline of our national character?
We are so far removed from reality that we even believe that we can get a sense of the plight of the third world farmer through playing a video game!
LSDs and the specialization of the consumer age has not only made us inept to care for ourselves, it has driven the cost of living many times over what it was just fifty years ago. Are our lives really better and more satisfying now compared to the 1940s?
Working as a youngster on a dairy farm in the mid 1970’s, I worked along side sixty year-old men who never had high cholesterol and very little arthritis. They had no weight problems (a little pudgy—they were in their sixties) and were active in every other way. They could put in a 12-hour day of hard farm work as easily as I could. Yet today I see countless 30-something men who are overweight, soft, and would likely expire at the thought of hard physical labor. What has happened to us?
We have forgotten the enjoyment of using our hands, the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes from “doing it ourselves” and the security of self-sufficiency. We have forgotten that human beings are still needed for the most basic necessities of life—food still grows in the ground and must be harvested, fruits still needs to be picked from the tree, cloth is still manually fed into the sewing machine, and fossil fuels and natural resources are still wrenched from the earth— by hand.
Not having personal experience in the manual arts is one level of losing our humanity and threatens civilization—not remembering that someone is practicing the manual arts right now—is a much deeper and catastrophic failure.
We believe that every congressman, every police officer, every corporate CEO, every surgeon, every diplomat, every teacher, every real estate agent; every American citizen would make better decisions, have better morals, and lead happier lives if they were more engaged in the manual arts. In fact, we challenge our reads to do just that– find ways to more deeply engage in the manual arts.
The manual arts are a natural cure for egoism, self-deception, and obesity. The manual arts are an instinctive remedy for a troubled mind and eliminate the need for sleep aids. The manual arts will increase health, vitality, and improve your view of the world. The manual arts enhance our powers of observation and appreciation.
Many of the manual arts involve dirt or soil or being outside in the fresh air—it is spiritually grounding and emotionally balancing.
Some of the least stressed and happiest people I know are masters of the manual arts.
*At the peak of Roman culture there were seven slaves for every roman citizen. The Romans had for the most part completely shunned the manual arts, becoming increasingly dependent on slave labor and the importation of their food supply. We have reached a similar existence. We are becoming more and more dependent on exports and even the manual labor done in this country is emotionally and culturally relegated to a certain segment of our population.
** Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom