The Article: “Leo Buscaglia on Education, Industrialized Conformity, and How Stereotypes and Labels Limit Love”
The Main Quote: “Labels are distancing phenomena. They push us away from each other.”
The First Story:
The animals got together in the forest one day and decided to start a school. There was a rabbit, a bird, a squirrel, a fish and an eel, and they formed a Board of Education. The rabbit insisted that running be in the curriculum. The bird insisted that flying be in the curriculum. The fish insisted that swimming be in the curriculum, and the squirrel insisted that perpendicular tree climbing be in the curriculum. They put all of these things together and wrote a Curriculum Guide. Then they insisted that all of the animals take all of the subjects. Although the rabbit was getting an A in running perpendicular tree climbing was a real problem for him; he kept falling over backwards. Pretty soon he got to be sort of brain damaged, and he couldn’t run any more. He found that instead of making an A in running, he was making a C and, of course, he always made an F in perpendicular tree climbing. The bird was really beautiful at flying, but when it came to burrowing in the ground, he couldn’t do so well. He kept breaking his beak and wings. Pretty soon he was making a C in flying as well as an F in burrowing, and he had a hellava time with perpendicular tree climbing. The moral of the story is that the animal who was valedictorian of the class was a mentally retarded eel who did everything in a halfway fashion. But the educators were all happy because everybody was taking all of the subjects, and it was called a broad-based education.
The Concept: Our Education begins the formation labeling and it leads to discrimination in our lives during systematic instruction and afterwards as we interact in society.
A Subtopic Quote:
“How many kids have not been educated just because someone pinned a label on them somewhere along the line? Stupid, dumb, emotionally disturbed. I have never known a stupid child. Never! Never! I’ve only known children and never two alike. Labels are distancing phenomena. They push us away from each other. Black man. What’s a black man? I’ve never known two alike. Does he love? Does he care? What about his kids? Has he cried? Is he lonely? Is he beautiful? Is he happy? Is he giving something to someone? These are the important things. Not the fact that he is a black man or Jew or Dago or Communist or Democrat or Republican.”
The Second Story:
I was born in Los Angeles, and my parents were Italian immigrants. A big family. Mama and Papa were obviously great lovers! They came from a tiny village at the base of the Italian Swiss Alps where everyone knew everyone. Everyone knew the names of the dogs, and the village priest came out and danced in the streets at the fiestas and got as drunk as everybody else. It was the most beautiful scene in the world and a pleasure to be raised by these people in this old way. But when I was taken, at five, to a public school, tested by some very official-looking person, the next thing I knew I was in a class for the mentally retarded! It didn’t matter that I was able to speak Italian and an Italian dialect. I also spoke some French and Spanish — but I didn’t speak English too well and so I was mentally retarded. I think the term now is “culturally disadvantaged.” I was put into the class for the mentally retarded, and I never had a more exciting educational experience in my life! Talk about a warm, pulsating, loving teacher. Her name was Miss Hunt, and I’m sure she was the only one in the school who would teach those “dumb” kids. She was a great bulbous woman. She liked me even if I smelled of garlic. I remember when she used to come and lean over me, how I used to cuddle! I did all kinds of learning for this woman because I really loved her. Then one day I made a tremendous mistake. I wrote a newspaper as if I were a Roman. I described how the gladiators would perform and so on. The next thing I knew I was being retested and was transferred to a regular classroom after which I was bored for the rest of my educational career.
I started out this group by quickly reviewing last weeks information on labels and elementary education. I read the main quote and asked someone to read The First Story.
I observed the fact that Buscaglia used “mentally retarded” to make a point in this story; it is a label itself. I asked if everyone in the group understood the concept of the story and gave my interpretation quickly. The same woman read The Subtopic Quote. And we quickly shared our views of what it meant to each of us. I also rendered the following clarifying paragraph: “Buscaglia’s most important point, however, is that such industrialized conformity transcends the education system and bleeds into our everyday lives, at all layers and levels of society — its product is a narrow definition of intelligence and ability, which results in a narrow field of belonging, which in turn casts everyone outside of it as a misfit.” to the group in my words then had the same woman read The Second Story which is a personal memory of Buscaglia.
The group was more interested in sharing their thoughts this week. I believe that this two part article encouraged people to think about the subject between the two group dates and was rewarded when one of the participants posed me with a relevant question. She was frustrated that this article posed the subject of the negative effects of labeling but didn’t seem to resolve it. She wanted to know if Buscaglia gave pointers on how to deal with the negative aspects of labeling within someone’s life. This is something I briefly researched between the two classes as she had brought up this point in the last gathering. I came up with little because my research terms were too broad and only served to give me results on how to use labels when printing. I’m not kidding. I’ll attempt to come up with alternative terms that may bring me to another potential group that could be an offshoot of this subject.
I also told her that this article is just part of his book titled Love: What Life Is All About 1972, Leo Buscaglia. I hadn’t read the book and had used this article which came from an online blog (which I was mistaken, read about Brain Pickings at: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/about/) and that there was some follow-up material that might be helpful (which I will cut and paste in the next section.)
“The rest of Buscaglia’s Love: What Life Is All About, an exquisite addition to these must-read books on the psychology of love, goes on to explore our ancient quest to define it, the notion that it’s a learned phenomenon, the interplay between love and strength, the responsibilities of love, and more. Complement it with Van Gogh on love, Stendhal on its seven stages, and the science of how “limbic revision” rewires the brain in love.”
The rest of the time was spent discussing labels and how it effects us as well as what it did to some of us personally. Because this is a group that meets within a Wellness and Recovery Center we talked about Mental Health and physical labels. To wrap up the class I summed up the concept that part of solving the problem would be to use less labels by moving towards people instead of away. Addressing the frustrated woman’s concerns I said that identifying that we use these labels might be a beginning to reducing the use of them. I added that judging people may have some negative results but judging wasn’t necessarily a bad thing to do. It helped protect us in many ways. She said that she knew she used them and tried to get beyond them by getting to know the person. I felt that she probably was the person who could solve her own question and do it well. I also added that discriminating and judging was a human thing to do and not unusual. None of us were born “perfect”.
I ended by saying we could only do what we could do and it was our choice to stop using labels. All in all this group was really lively and everyone participated. I thanked the woman with the frustration after class as she apologized to me for being portentous. I said I was happy that he brought challenging questions to the group, it helped to direct communication. Another woman who works at the center told her that her challenging helped the other group members become interested and join in.
As part of the group sometimes we might think about the concepts and realize that we have more to say about our own experiences and thoughts. If you care to, and even if you’re not part of the physical group leave an answer to the following:
Do you notice that you use labels in your life when you meet new people? How about people you’ve know for a long time, do you label them? How do you feel, if anything when you recognize that you are using labels for others in your life? Do you or have you tried to dispense with a label and give another person a chance to become closer? Keep in mind that just because you may dispense with a label doesn’t mean it magically makes the other person “good”. You’ve just humanized them to yourself.