Two Languages Not One

[crucial to understand the ‘disease’ and the way to heal from it]

Ivan Illich: For Dante (1265-1321), a language that had to be learned, to be spoken according to a grammar, was inevitably a dead tongue… In 1492, Queen Isabella [of Spain] receives a petition which unlike the request of Columbus, who wanted resources to establish a new route to China, that of Nebrija urges the queen to invade a new domain at home. He offers Isabella a tool to colonize the language spoken by her own subjects; he wants her to replace the people’s speech by the imposition of the queen’s lengua – her language, her tongue. What for Dante was dead and useless, Nebrija recommends as a tool. One was interested in vital exchange, the other in universal conquest, in a language that by rule would coin words as incorruptible as the stones of a palace… The decision for colonial conquest overseas implied the challenge of a new war at home – the invasion of her own people’s vernacular domain, the opening of a five-century war against vernacular subsistence, the ravages of which we now begin to fathom.

John Piper: In the 1520s, William Tyndale translated (hiding in Germany) the Bible into vernacular English [vernacular language refers to living language which people learn without teaching/ tutoring]. He did it in hiding because King Henry VIII and the church were against translating it into a language which people understand without the help of institutions and professionals. In October 1536, at only 42 years of age, William Tyndale’s one-note voice was silenced as he was tied to the stake, strangled by the executioner, and then consumed in the fire.

Thomas Macaulay:

“I have conversed both here and at home with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the Oriental learning at the valuation of the Orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is, indeed, fully admitted by those members of the Committee who support the Oriental plan of education [in India]… …

We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect… We have to educate a people who cannot at present be educated by means of their mother-tongue”. From Thomas Babington Macaulay, “Minute of 2 February 1835 on Indian Education,” Macaulay, Prose and Poetry, selected by G. M. Young (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1957), pp-721-24.]

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A friend wrote: The idea that the university is the only site of learning is a rather modern idea. In fact, in most civilizations, there have historically been numerous sites of learning and pedagogy. One of the many ways in which modernity has insidiously asserted a deadening homogeneity is in installing the university as the sole site of learning–indeed, it is not even “learning” of which we are speaking, but rather an education which these days seems to have no purpose except to prepare students to acquire jobs and become minions of either the state or the corporate world. The so-called “world universities” are by far the greatest culprits in this enterprise. The university is now part of the game of ranking, metrics-driven…

Emmanuel Liscano of the Open University of Madrid wrote: Basque group celebrate their grandfathers who fought against metric system…

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Concerning my conviction that every person is a co-author of meaning:

Since 1971, a main conviction in my mind (which kept deepening within me ever since) has been ‘every person is co-author of meaning’; ‘every person is a source of meaning and understanding’. I refer to this conviction as ‘democracy of meaning’, which I consider most basic of democracies. Democracy of meaning is our main immunity at the intellectual level. Intellectual enslavement is very corrupting at both the personal and community levels. ‘Every person is a co-author of meaning’ leads to meanings that stem from contemplating upon life, and independently investigating the meaning one makes out of it. This is a biological ability, a duty, and a right – excluded from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the rights of the child. To protect ourselves from the onslaught of manufactured words, we need to practice our ability and duty to be co-authors of meanings. It is a most urgent act in today’s world in our quest for freeing ourselves from the harm done to humans, communities, and nature; it frees us from being parrots and robots at the intellectual level.

Words which I co-authored their meanings since 1971 include: learning, science, math, knowledge, illiterate, evaluation, vision, freedom, cultured person, mind, education, plurality, fundamentalism, professor, expert, teacher, values, medium, progress, illiterate, intuitive mind. I will elaborate on some of these words for clarification:

For a long time, especially after the Oslo agreement between Palestinians and Israelis, when the World Bank took over our future, the word ‘expert’ became dominant in the West Bank region of Palestine. I have been trying to see what is common among ‘experts’ who came to Palestine. I noticed that one thing that is common is making the past look backward, obsolete and out of date

‘Professor’ has a very beautiful meaning in English: a person who professes what has brewed and matured within her/him (as a result of engaging in real situations in life and contemplating upon them) and sharing that with others – and not a person who has a degree or academic rank. I keep trying in my interactions with academicians to remind them of the need to regain this meaning.

The father of modern science, Francis Bacon, talked about science as ‘subduing nature’. Science before Bacon revolved around the regularities people saw in nature in order to live in harmony with it, and to remedy the harm done by people to nature; it was more healing than dominating. In other words, it was close to living wisely.

According to modern physics, time moves forward along a straight line; for an organic farmer, who lives in harmony with nature, time follows the life cycle; i.e., it is circular. Darwin held the principle of ‘survival of the fittest’; an organic farmer who knows nature from a radically different angle, holds the principle of ‘survival of the weakest’: earth worms that keep the soil healthy. The survival of earth worms is crucial to the survival of healthy soil and thus to the well being of people. What earth worms do is nothing less than a miracle in relation to the well-being of the soil and of humans. At the intellectual level, what takes the place of earth worms is the intuitive mind whose survival is crucial to having a healthy intellectual life. Modernity made the intuitive mind invisible or worthless.

When I saw the similarity between what the flush toilet does and what official education does, I started referring to official education as the flush toilet of knowledge…

The spirit of regeneration is a value. Modern science – in words and in action – seems to treat this spirit as an enemy to its progress. Elite universities confuse progress at the level of tools with progress at levels where this spirit is protected in order to keep life as an act of mutual nurturance at many levels. Such universities deal with excellence, truth, and creativity as if they are values, although they are tools that can serve totally different values. Harvard at the age of 380, still does not realize that truth (VeRiTas, its motto) is not a value but a tool that can serve different values.

Finally, I want to mention how a young Palestinian ‘Khalil Sakakini’ (at age 18) in 1896 co-authored the meaning of official education (as he experienced it in the schools that were established in the Jerusalem area) as “wearing someone else’s shoes” which he chose as the title of the book he wrote then. Few years later he referred to official education as degradation of students and established a school in Jerusalem with its motto (in words and in action) as ‘dignifying students not degrading them’.

Very briefly, for me, knowledge is action, whose meanings are contextual; it is what becomes part of one’s lifestyle rather than just texts and skills that we parrot as robots.

I can’t stop without mentioning the meaning I worked with concerning math since the 1970s. In 1979, I introduced a course for entering science students into Birzeit University (near Ramallah in Palestine) which I called “Math in the Other Direction” which revolved around several aspects that do not get enough attention in schools and universities, such as: seeing the underlying logic in social phenomena, seeing similarities among different phenomena in terms of their inner structures, inter-connectedness among different aspects and forming a mental picture of that, and using math as a means of discovering aspects in one’s lifestyle in order to remedy the harm done by living with the pattern of consumption…

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