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Listen to the inner primitive: A letter to a student


I was and am a student. In terms of years served, I have more college education now than grade and high school combined. I know what you are going through.

Though I am a hard-ass in a lot of things academic–it does us no good to get grades without learning something–I see that you are a bright student. You certainly demonstrated skill, imagination, and intellect in our class, even if you weren’t always ready or willing to expose those attributes to the rest of us.

The reason I say this is that I think you can take more charge of your education. I had some really crappy teachers, and I mean shitty. But I also had some great ones. The thing I learned in dealing with both is that it was up to me to capture whatever that class was meant to convey, regardless of the quality of instruction.

Still, it was sometimes a break a teacher gave me that saved my ass and allowed me to continue forward.

So, the break you and I decided upon.

I want you to do well, Josie, and I think you can. The secret, which took me too long to figure out, goes like this:

Bring the food to your mouth, not your mouth to the food.

My friend and colleague, Rev. David DeChant, gave me this simple, everyday advice for children from parents who don’t want to see their offspring hunched over a plate, slopping and crumbing all over the table and floor.

At the time, I was in dire economic difficulties. All my attempts at becoming a published writer ran into seemingly insurmountable obstacles. My self-esteem, so dependent on what I thought others thought of me, was in the toilet.

He related this childhood cliche to me in a more metaphorical sense. That is, pursue what you want and earn it. If you want the easy way, look for freebies, find ways to cut corners, or seek just to get by, you will follow the “food” instead of earning it yourself. You will chain yourself and your worth to opinions, actions, and whims of others. You will not be independent in body, mind, or soul.

The freedom, this independence, of course, lies in making yourself emotionally and economically self-sustaining. Life is best lived when you bring the “food” to your mouth instead of following others and relying on them to give it to you.

This doesn’t mean living life separated from or at the expense of others. Rather, healthy human relationships are necessary for any independent spiritual being. This means participating in the lives of others and allowing them to participate in yours. It entails asking for help and advice when needed and using not only for your advantage but also for the benefit of others Most importantly, it means being available to serve others when called upon.

As you know, I am a vehement critic of competitive capitalism and the American mythologies of hard work, determination, and self-sacrifice. These are things the wealthy and powerful use to keep working people from challenging the status quo, class and status, and the means of accumulation of wealth and power.

I am, however, a fan of the de-mythologized ideas of hard work, determination, and self-sacrifice. These are just good for me. I could give a shit about being employed or making money. As a matter of fact, I think that most of the time that jobs stand in the way of my work, schools retard my education, and social proprieties prevent way of meaningful, mutually healthy and beneficial human and environmental relationships.

You don’t need a job to get to your work, but a job can bring you into contact with new and interesting people and help you to form a discipline useful toward making your personal “work” meaningful.

You don’t need an education to be smart and adept at dealing with the world. An education, however, can open you to a world of possibilities when used as a springboard toward freedom from the fetters of convention and routine.

You don’t need material things to prove your worth or provide you comfort but you can use them to create a home for yourself that allows you to be of greatest service to others.

So, Josie, if you take anything from this, I hope it is that you, Josephine Macintosh, are the bright kid with a future that can go any direction. You will discover new and interesting things and new ways of perceiving and grasping the world and society. These will allow you the freedom to pursue your “work” regardless of the economic, social, and cultural strictures that our society and its mythologies and ideologies want to put on you.

You have to be open to the things that your future will show you. You must keep from being so rigid as to believe that fitting into the boxes of jobs, academic disciplines, and social structures is the only way to achieve happiness.

Now, I lend all this to you to do with what you want. Regardless of how you use your education, I will be your greatest, most loyal and biased partisan.

I wish you all the luck in the world. Use the opportunity to get back into Wassamatta U to do wonderful things for yourself, your family and friends, and your community.

You may E-mail me anytime with news of your journey or questions about education at:


Of course, my student’s name is not Josie, nor does she plan on attending school with Boris Badenov, Natasha Fatale, and Bullwinkle J. Moose.

Published in Uncategorized


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