Hooverville


I spoke with my friend Evan this morning.  Tomorrow he starts back teaching third grade for a great school in Oakland Unified.

They notified him yesterday that instead of the promised 20 students in his classroom he’s going to have 32.  I guess it’s some weird inversion of downsizing – the consequence of a bankrupt state, a failing economy and apparently a failing school system.  How is that even tenable?

He was thinking that he could have 6 students at a time rotate out of the classroom and stand in the hall for a few hours. Perhaps he should declare the theme for the year to be “Great Depression”.  Post a sign outside the door saying “Hooverville”.  Transform the lunch line into a bread line.  Teach the kids to glean fruit from the neighborhood fruit trees.  In math develop some neat exercises to illustrate what happens when you spend more than you make.  Teach fractions by showing how much you need to put down to by a 700k house and what happens when you put down less and what does it mean to be “leveraged”?  Have a counting exercise to see how long it takes to get to a trillion.  Try for a week to see what it feels like to go unwashed and unfed.

Spend a whole week just looking at the photos of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans*, and an afternoon reading Agee’s paean to a lantern flame† until the kids drift off to sleep.  Wonder why the pictures work and Agee’s dense prose perhaps does not.

But the lessons are great:  There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.  We’re all in this together.  The first step in recovery is learning how to give.  Keep it on.  Keep it simple.  Take care of ourselves, but not at the expense of others.

*”a conspirator against time and its hammers; his pictures testify to the selfishness and waste that caused the ruin, and they would salvage whatever was splendid for the survivors.” – Lincoln Kirstein

“A country letter” in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men


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