As a former student of Antioch, and as an initiate into the mysteries of Thelema, I had always been struck by the name of Antioch’s first president, Horace Mann, as if it were prescient about the influx of energies represented by the Thelemic concept of the Aeon of Horus. The names Horus and Horace have the same phonetic sound, a rather flimsy board to build a proposition on, and yet to me it seemed like a clue to a deeper relationship.
In Egyptian mythology Horus is the Child God and in the religious philosophy of Thelema the Aeon of Horus is seen to be a time when humanity will reach a stage of self-actualization. Self-actualization depends on self-realization, or the inner understanding of an authentic self, to a large degree. A well designed education enables a person to draw out this authentic self, and can perhaps even assist an individual to discover their True Will. It’s about growing up to our true potential.
The Aeon of Horus represents that time when humanity begins the process of growing up, en masse. Awakening human potential is the task of all great teachers. Aleister Crowley’s dream, despite what else one might think of his personality, was to see humanity embrace the potential each of us had when born as a child. Horace Mann shared a similar dream and his life as a teacher was dedicated to the cause of education reform. It was his hope to bring children of all social classes together in the classroom. Through his work in establishing the Common School movement, he helped America build one of the finest public school systems in the world. In 1838 he founded The Common School Journal in which he critiqued the than extant public schools and the issues they had. To bring about the reforms he had in mind Horace laid out six main principles to guide schools, teachers and public opinion in this regard. He argued, “(1) the public should no longer remain ignorant; (2) that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public; (3) that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children from a variety of backgrounds; (4) that this education must be non-sectarian; (5) that this education must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society; and (6) that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers.” Mann also worked for more numerous and better equipped school houses, longer years of schooling (until 16 years old), a higher pay for teachers, and a wider curriculum.
If a person looks at the process of education as a practice of gardening, with human potential as the cultivar, I wonder what Horace Mann would think of the beds he planted in their current state? The school system he helped put into place is now overgrown and in shambles, sprouting only the occasional flower. Higher education is in a situation just as bad, merely providing training for jobs that no longer exist, or that will cease to exist in the process of energy descent. With few exceptions, neither public schools or college and university are doing the work of helping people learn how to think. Meanwhile practical training in trades that will serve humanity down the long slope of empire fall and industrial decline have been scrapped in favor of courses whose abstract ruminations will do nothing to feed a cold and starving humanity. Furthermore the discontinuation of teaching Home Economics, either at school, or at home where it begins by example, is going to leave a lot of folks scrambling, as piece by piece, disaster by disaster, the empire crumbles. And isn’t rebuilt.
In this environment self-directed education is a practical alternative. Where viable, the path of solitary learning can be augmented with one-on-one student/teacher and mentoring relationships (where some of the best learning takes place in both student and teacher), weekend workshops, correspondence courses, study groups, and when necessary single courses at existing schools. But why do any of this? In a world that has conjured up a unique shit storm of endemic crises, it remains much easier to numb oneself with the multiple diversions available, whether of the drug addled chemical variety, or non-stop commercial infotainment (but for how long?). Eventually the program will be over and as the buzz begins to wear off America is going to find itself with a massive hangover, the many signs of which have already appeared. We should have switched to water a couple of drinks back to save us from half a day of agony. There will still be painful situations to confront no matter what we do. The choice we have now is whether or not to face them with a clear head and with an armful of skills to stand us in good stead when a crisis erupts, as it will, or to keep on staring down the barrel of a gun, all the while pretending it is not loaded.
We should work not only to awaken our human potential and learn skills that will serve us and our our own satisfaction when executed, but will be of service to our fellows and to the planet. As the American empire continues to fall, and as industrial culture worldwide goes down the jagged steps of decline, many of our present achievements are in danger of being lost. In order to take the best of what American and industrial culture in general, has done that is of positive value, forward into future generations requires individuals to take up the responsibility of becoming conscious vessels of memory and bearers of culture. At a time when generational thinking has been shunned in favor of instant gratification it will be necessary to shed the short sighted behaviors which have made a long term mess for the planet and its future inhabitants. This sense of accountability can be roused when we become aware of the spiritual aspects of our selves, and of the multidimensional ecology our world is a part of.
The Downside of the Age of the Child
In his Baccalaureate Address of 1857 Horace Mann wrote, “Every man has an animal nature, a lower tier of endowments, adapted to subordinate uses and gratifications. But all gratifications of this class are limited in their extent and short in their duration, and the universal law by which they are governed is that over-indulgence produces under-enjoyment. As we rise to the second order of faculties –the intellectual- the circuit or amplitude of gratifications is enlarged, their duration is prolonged, and the exquisiteness of enjoyment is enhanced. But it is only when a man becomes conscious of his divine capabilities; it is only when his moral and religious nature awakens or is awakened into activity that the area of his delights expands into boundlessness, that those delights become coextensive with eternity and brim to overflowing his ever-increasing capacities of rapture and ecstasy.”
Horace Mann’s three orders of natural endowment have a rough parallel in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Mann’s first tier corresponds to the first two levels on Maslow’s pyramid, the physiological needs for food, sex, sleep and excretion as well as the safety of body, health, property, the family, and employment. Because of the hyper affluence of industrial societies, the pervasive influences of media and advertising, and the ready availability for most of physiological and safety needs, we have come to be ruled by exacerbated passions. This plays out as over indulgence in food, drink, sex and entertainment; the last item mentioned so much so that many adults no longer have time to devote to hobbies, community service, personal development and continuing education, the second order of faculties represented by intellectual development or mastery of a trade. In Maslow’s hierarchy I would find parallels here with the need for love and belonging and the need for esteem. When so much of a life is devoted to gratification and passive consumption the activities which strengthen relationships and maintain community fall apart, especially in cases of extreme addiction. And while it is not popular to say so, many of the behaviors of an industrial society, both individual and collective can be characterized as addictions [See David Holmgren, Permaculture Principle#4: Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback]. Devotion to continual education, refinement of skill in the sciences and arts, whether on an amateur or professional level, outside of what is necessary to hold on to a bill paying job falls by the wayside. Confidence wanes and dissipates. The higher faculties of man may never be developed. The pyramid has stopped being built because the base needs are satisfied, albeit in a dysfunctional holding pattern. It is like vast swathes of my generation stopped growing at a teenage level that has since extended into their twenties, thirties and beyond.
What makes it all worse is the fact that these behaviors and addictions, when driven to the abnormal extremes made possible by the unprecedented access of energy characterized by this age of oil, have caused systemic pollution and perversion of the natural order. We need to relearn the words of Apollo, pan mestron aristron, or everything in moderation. For some of our vices moderation may not be enough, and quitting cold turkey is a better alternative. These are first steps towards a recovery marked by collective soul loss.
Life experiences in this culture do take their toll. Set-backs, delays, and frustrations, if not walked past with determination and fortitude, may often leave a person feeling fragile and disheartened. When immense challenges are posed it may seem easier to back down into the self we have become comfortable with in fear of having those comforts stripped away. As energy descent unfolds many of our comforts will be stripped away. Resilence begins with the self. One way of becoming resilient, and of rebuilding self-confidence, of restoring soul, is to develop a system of self-education and practical work training, so we will be able to preserve those elements of culture we wish to see live on into the future.
In the collection of essays, speeches and papers that make up the book Horace Mann at Antioch there was an article by Arthur Morgan, a later president of the school, entitled, “A Budget for Your Life”. In it Arthur gives an outline for continued education beyond college, looking to create a budget for a well-rounded life in the same way a household operates from a financial budget. To Arthur Morgan this included, “physical health; training for work; actual experience in work; a trained appreciation of social, religious, economic, and esthetic values; a sense of proportion; a well-grounded knowledge of history, literature, philosophy and science; and finally a life purpose.” He then goes on to detail in each one of these sections how further education and engagement with these areas can be incorporated into the daily living of an individual.
My interest is not only in developing a well rounded life –and using my own personal path as an example of my own attempt to do so- but to think about how people might approach the acquisition of knowledge in a world with scarce resources. And while I have no doubt that centers of higher education will continue to exist in some form, at present they come with a hefty price tag and bill attached. The cost of college stops many young people from ever considering buying a home, as the debt incurred is often heftier than a small mortgage, let alone being able to pay off a mortgage and own a home outright. During the long emergency, as the existing social order collapses, other strategies for education must be pursued. The existing education system is already broke. However, within it there has been some good, and those scraps can be used to kindle the fires of future learning. In further posts I will be looking at how education begins in the home, as well as the trivium and quadrivium of the classical seven liberal arts, and the categories mentioned by Arthur Morgan in developing a budget for life.