Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A mighty wind

Today, boys and girls, Spot is going to tell a moral fable, sort of like the great philosopher-king Bill Bennett does.

The gambling windbag? Is that the "mighty wind" you're referring to Spotty?

No, grasshopper, actually it is not. Be patient. Please.


Thank you. Now here's the tale:

Once Upon A Time, there was a village of hunter gatherers. By and large, the villagers were pretty successful in both their hunting and their gathering. For generations, the village had made the effort to teach all of the children in the village the necessary skills to survive. This is the village on which Hillary Clinton based her book, "It Takes a Village," by the way.

Oh, come on, Spotty. You don't expect us to swallow that, do you?

It is up to you to decide. Anyway.

It seemed like there were always a few youngsters in the village who did not pick up hunting and gathering skills as well as the majority of the children did. Some of them lived in a remote part of the village; some had parents who didn't seem interested in or able to spend the time with the children on their homework: sharpening spears, making snares, and the like; some, it must be admitted, just didn't like hunting and gathering.

A discontent arose in the village over the community-wide system and its seeming failure to reach all the kids. Some of the discontented parents had children who weren't doing as well. But not all. Some of the parents who were critical of the system just thought it took too much of everyone's time, that they could teach their own children better by themselves or together with a few of the other more successful parents, or that not enough time was devoted to making the children adept at reciting the prayers and incantations for a successful hunt. This last group was especially vocal.

While the elders in the village counseled that the villagers should figure out how to make the village-wide education system better, some parents didn't take their advice and began to chart a new course. Some of them set up hut schools, and a few of them banded together to form little units that only their children could attend.

In the beginning, the break-away villagers still had to perform their assigned tasks for the village-wide education system. After a while, these villagers started saying, "What the hell is this?" Actually they didn't say that, but if Spot said what they really said, no one would understand it. So accept Spot's paraphrase. Soon, these parents began to neglect their duties in teaching all of the children in the village.

At first, things seemed to work pretty well, especially for the children of the breakaways. Their spearing accuracy went up, they were able to make more sophisticated snares, and perhaps best of all, they could recite their prayers and incantations like nobody's business. Some villagers—but not the elders, though—predicted a new age of plenty for the village. But a funny thing happened.

Over time, the villagers noticed a marked decline in the quality of skill teaching in the village school. The breakaways said, "So, what? Form your own school." Some did, which made the problems of the village school worse. But a lot of the parents were unable—for whatever reason—to find an alternative for their kids and had to watch helplessly as the village school continued to decline. And something else happened, too.

In recent years, the villagers had learned how to hunt the biggest game animals: buffalo and even the mastodon. This really did take a village! But the villagers were finding that there were no longer enough hunters with adequate skills to provide the muscle needed to bring down larger quarry. Oh sure, the privately-schooled hunters went out and tried, but they tended to get trampled or gored. Naturally, they started to concentrate on smaller game.

What happened then, Spotty?

The nutrition of the village declined and the villagers started blaming each other. Quarrels started to break out; the villagers started fighting, and some even resorted to cannibalism. The survivors scattered, and while some joined other villages, many starved.

The End

That's really a sad story, Spotty. But who or what is the "mighty wind?"

Spot has gone on long enough for now, grasshopper. For the answer, you'll just have to stay tuned.

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