Tag Archives: John Steinbeck

Diversity, Unschooling Conferences, and Steinbeck, MLK, and Gandhi Quotes

I was inspired by a quote from John Steinbeck to write more about race, racism, and welcoming diversity in the homeschooling scene and at unschooling conferences. I also quote Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. from a great YouTube video you can watch here.

In 1961, Steinbeck talked with a wealthy white man in New Orleans, who admitted, “Surely my ancestors had slaves, but it is possible that yours caught them and sold them to us.” Steinbeck acknowledged this. Then the man explained:

“If by force you make a creature live and work like a beast, you must think of him as a beast, else empathy would drive you mad. Once you have classified him in your mind, your feelings are safe…. And if your heart has human vestiges of courage and anger, which in a man are virtues, then you have fear of a dangerous beast, and since your heart has intelligence and inventiveness and the ability to conceal them, you live with terror. Then you must crush his manlike tendencies and make of him the docile beast you want. And if you can teach your child from the beginning about the beast, he will not share your bewilderment.”

I think we all feel huge empathy for our fellow human beings and feel shame when we wrong them in any way. It’s a miracle that social creatures are given: we are unable to hurt others without feeling responsible and hurt ourselves.

Still, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

“So often people respond to guilt by engaging more in the guilt-evoking act in an attempt to drown the sense of guilt.”

(The quote starts around 1:30 in this great YouTube video and you can read the interview here.)

There are many ways we try to avoid guilt and shame that result in more guilt and shame. This can be totally unconscious especially, as this southern white man says, if it has gone on for generations.

A  lot has been acknowledged and healed, and huge progress has been made in the area of racism against African-Americans and everyone else. And a lot of shame has been shed.

Nevertheless, as Gandhi put it when he had a transformative experience with racism:

The hardship to which I was subjected was superficial – only a symptom of the deep disease of color prejudice.  I should try, if possible, to root out the disease….

The disease has still not been completely rooted out: significant racism exists today and old wounds and shame have yet to be completely healed.

I think sometimes when white people see African-Americans they feel confronted with an unacknowledged shame they fear and this can in fact result in racist behavior or just avoidance of the people or topic.

I had a lot of fear about writing about race and racism in my Homeschooling, Unschooling, and Diversity and Welcoming Diversity at Unschooling Conferences posts. I didn’t know how the white people who love the unschooling conferences would react or how African-Americans and other people of color would respond.

But I tried to write in a gentle and honest way. When I finally did it, tons of people viewed the post and some people shared their own stories and encouraged and thanked me for raising the issue. Personally, I’ve felt really freed through my writing on the topic.

And I hope ultimately it results in people being more welcoming and there being more diversity in the homeschooling and unschooling scene and at conferences.

I think the potential is great with homeschooling and unschooling in so many areas including progress in learning about diverse cultures and welcoming all people.

What I can’t stress enough is the more we do make an effort to do this the more we will naturally pass it on to our children. Instead of teaching our children “about the beast“: let’s teach our children about the beauty we can see in people of all races, from all backgrounds.

As usual, we teach mostly by example, which I think is both a sobering and inspiring thought.

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John Steinbeck Quotes – Travels with Charley: In Search of America

A book can be a very good companion while travelling. Here are some quotes from Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck which I read on my trip around Central America this spring.

The book is about Steinbeck travelling around the U.S. with his companion, a French poodle named “Charley”,  in 1961 when he was 58 years old. I love Steinbeck’s writing and it was interesting to hear the observations of a man who grew up in the early 1900s travelling at that time. And interestingly I often found his journey around (United States of) America mirroring mine around Central America.

(Page notes are from the Penguin Books edition published in 1980 and reissued in 1986 with ISBN 978-0-14-005320-3.)

A journey is a person itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. (p4)

I find out of long experience that I admire all nations and hate all governments, and nowhere is my natural anarchism more aroused than at national borders…. (p84)

(On highway rest stops in the U.S. in the early 1960s) It is a life at the peak of some kind of civilization. The restaurant accommodations, great scallops of counters with simulated leather stools, are as spotless as and not unlike the lavatories. Everything that can be captured and held down is sealed in clear plastic. The food is oven-fresh, spotless and tasteless; untouched by human hands. I remember with an ache certain dishes in France and Italy touched by innumberable human hands. (p91)

“You know when show people come into what they call the sticks, they have a contempt for the yokels. It took me a little time, but when I learned that there aren’t any yokels I began to get on fine. I learned respect for my audience. They feel that and they work with me, and not against me. Once you respect them, they can understand anything you can tell them.” (Said by a travelling actor) (p149)

This journey has been like a full dinner of many courses, set before a starving man. At first he tries to eat all of everything, but as the meal progresses he finds he must forgo some things to keep his appetite and his taste buds functioning. (p211)

(Steinbeck passed through the South while tensions were very high during the civil rights movement.)

“If by force you make a creature live and work like a beast, you must think of him as a beast, else empathy would drive you mad.” (Said by a man from an old white Louisiana family who probably owned slaves.) (p265)

(Regarding a conversation with a young black student) Finally we spoke of Martin Luther King and his teaching of passive but unrelenting resistance. “It’s too slow,” he said. “It will take too long…. I might be an old man before I’m a man at all. I might be dead before.” (Later) “I’m ashamed,” he said. “It’s just selfishness. But I want to see it – me – not dead. Here! Me! I want to see it – soon.” And then he swung around and wiped his eyes with his hand and walked away. (p272-273)

Who has not known a journey to be over and done before the traveler returns? The reverse is also true: many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased. I remember a man in Salinas who in his middle years traveled to Honolulu and back, and that journey continued for the rest of his life. We could watch him in his rocking chair on his front porch, his eyes squinted, half-closed, endlessly traveling to Honolulu…. My own journey started long before I left and was over before I returned. (p274)

I know exactly when my journey ended: when I read the above passage at the end of the book and was sitting alone waiting for a bus after a chaotic weekend in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast during Semana Santa (“Easter” which is huge in Latin America).

Then I went to Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific coast and loved seeing the wildlife and beaches but that was it. I had amazing experiences on that trip that will stay with me. Part of me thought I should continue on because that was the plan but as Steinbeck noted: a journey has a life of its own. Within about a week I had bought a ticket and flown home and it felt good.

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