Ethics First!


Those of us who have been involved with numerous “non-proft” organizations know the importance of a name.  Instead of “Earth First!”, maybe we should try Ethics First!

Ethics First!

Everyone thinks we need an ethical society – most notably, an ethical government (one that doesn’t lie, steal, and torture us) and an ethical economy based on voluntary cooperation, self-management, trading real VALUES (goods and services, social relations, the environment, etc.) – not threats, extortion, and the commands of a totalitarian military-police state.

Most of the skills of a sustainable statecraft are well-understood. We CAN manage ourselves, on whatever scale, successfully. But we have to stop denying the wisdom of the ages (the principals of ethical behavior), and violating them at every turn. In religious terms, so long as the sinful are driving the people ever-deeper into sinfulness and the consequent disasters, things will only get worse.

Or, on a practical level, the ignorant are driving the people into ever-greater ignorance and helplessness, destroying our public institutions, and ultimately everything that makes us human. We will be some mixture of animals and machines.

It’s all the same thing. We all understand this, right?


Here’s an earlier attempt to deal with this issue, which I saved in my WordPress file to post, but somehow never did.  This might be my first post this year…

Modeling learning behaviors…

The eclectic and mostly practitioner-oriented (local administrators, psychologists, counselors, etc.) pedagogy classes I took in the 1990’s proved very useful. Working teachers and administrators, with a bent towards reform or “expanding educational opportunities” are often very good at it, and I learned a lot, and actually made some lasting friends (for 10 years or so, anyway, reflecting my drift away from – not to say fleeing – the Liberal Establishment).

Of course, I’ve always known and practiced “life-long learning.” Learning is what we do. When we stop learning, we wither (or bloat) and die. I lived in a family of teachers – including my mother’s mother, so she had the same attitudes of the small community school, where everyone learns and shares what they know. It’s a game. It isn’t to pass tests. It’s to pass LIFE.

A lot of the courses I took were geared to K-5 teachers and counselors. There is where you learn the importance of what they call “the affective domain” = feelings, impulses, the stuff of everyday behavior by “ordinary people.” Since I was isolated from my peers until entering 1st grade, and resident in a highly neurotic family.

“The fairy-tales work in our universe” is how I once put it, “and days are like scenes in a play.” That was probably a Wilma-era poem – I’ll see if I can find it. It was more about Montana than our family, but one seems to be a metaphor for the other, and this outlined some of the commonalities.

How can we teach families to read and discuss things together? Ah, there’s the rub. We did it endlessly, each adult confiding in me the sins and shortcomings of her siblings, nieces and nephews, and other grandchildren. My grandmother Stephens had apparently made a Jesuit-like deal to have me for the first 5 years, and then my parents could fight over me, which they proceeded to do. She always claimed to have rescued me from the orphanage, but it’s doubtful she would have done so if I hadn’t been her grandson (and my best guess is that I am not, biologically).

My name was not even on my birth certificate filed at the Courthouse (maybe that’s common) but it was on the one we got from the hospital, with a footprint (like fingerprint) for identification. So I was able to “write my own ticket” at the age of 15 or whenever I first looked it up. Unfortunately, I wrote in what my name had always been – Paul Howard Stephens, son of James Howard Stephens. I probably already had a Social Security card by that time, too, so it would have been a pain to change it.

Besides my mother growing up in gangster-era Chicago (she was born 1912, in Roundup, MT), my grandmother Stephens (Paulson) grew up in Black Eagle (as well as Belt and Sand Coulee), where her mother ran a boarding house – it’s the front-piece to the red Black Eagle history published in the 1980’s, I think. She was a actually born in a railroad camp in Montana Territory, at a stop called Zurich. I have a picture of her standing in front of the railroad station at Zurich.

I don’t have a copy of the Black Eagle history (my grandmother’s sister, Mary, is also in the Belt one), but I see them here and there. Fortunately, the Montana Room at the Library keeps all that stuff, although they also discard a lot of stuff that should be there. I’ve tried to place important Montana books there several times, without any luck. Apparently, they have standing orders never to listen to anything I might say… That’s another Great Falls tradition, apparently. Send your tired, your poor, yearning to be free, to Black Eagle, along with any books or history you want to give up…

The actress, Jean Arthur, was my mother’s first-cousin, and we actually visited her when I was about 9 years old. That was about the only thing I knew of to distinguish us, but on the Stephens ranch, there was a rich history of public service and learning, to which I certainly attribute most of my future interest in these things, although the GFPS made a good effort to stamp it out, along with everyone else’s sense of freedom and independence. Charlie Russell, we must remember, got little or no respect from the kind of people who run our city and state, today. The travails of the Russell Museum bear witness to that.

Modeling Learning Behaviors.

In everything you do (as a classroom teacher, and for that matter, in the rest of life), DO THE RIGHT THING. Don’t try to hide and get away with stuff. Kids can recognize a lie or manipulative, harmful behaviors in a second. They see right into your soul, so there better be something that inspires them, there, instead of filling them with fear and loathing. It’s SHOW and tell – I can see better than I can hear. I’m looking at the facts of the situation, not what you want to tell me with all of your mercenary, ulterior motives.

Always assume your listeners are “intelligent” – they can understand things on a deep and complex level. But they can’t always explain or defend it. They know something is wrong, but they don’t know what it is. Your job as a teacher is to help them understand, and in the manner of respectful “do it your way” and “figure things out for yourself,” not “that’s the way it is so get used to it.”

I like to go back and read some of the great pedagogues of the 20th or earlier centuries. The New England Transcendentalists still loom large – John Dewey and John Muir were both disciples of Emerson, and Thoreau, the Alcott’s, Margaret Fuller, and others were major figures in their own right, while belonging to the same intellectual circle. That’s how learning really takes off and reshapes a nation and civilization.

Montessori is ever-fresh. The House of the Child. Teach the child how to live and care for his Oikos. What could be more natural and good? But only the somewhat wealthy and enlightened seem to recognize it. Montessori has done well in Montana. Perhaps the OPI should hire a Montessori Specialist to apply some of this to our present public education system. After all, that’s what it was designed for. Put them on every Rez immediately, I’d say…

My father read A. S. Neil (Summerhill) when I was a child, so I benefitted from that knowledge and his respect for my moral autonomy and giving me responsibility for the effects of my own actions. I did my share of juvenile crime, and he often told me stories about his own activities in that regard. It seems to be a kind of “rite of passage” like stealing a horse from another tribe, or whatever. Now, I would be cast into a system which has no exit but higher-security prisons. The military, instead of being an option for first-offenders who needed “discipline” and “a sense of purpose” is completely closed to such young adventurers and future conquerors of Damascus, or whatever. That’s another way we fall behind the “international norms.” Religion is the common levener (like yeast). It ferments, it explodes, it creates vast over-emissions of CO2 – but it also holds people together, and keeps them full of hot air..

Enough metaphors for this morning. Montana will rise, again..


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