A Metaphor from a less than 600 Pound Gorilla

Ishmael is the gorilla’s name.  Yes, he is under 600 pounds and he talks and he is a philosopher.  Ishmael is the prime character in three books written by Daniel Quinn  (Ishmael, My Ismael, The Story of B).  Ishmael helps his students understand that the world is divided by Takers and Leavers, each with their own philosophy about how to use the world’s resources and how to structure a society.  Ishmael likes to teach through stories (no, Ismael is anything but a Christ-figure) and they are stories that make you scratch your head and wonder what to do.

So the story I want to draw your attention to deals with the topic of education.  Ishmael and Julie have been talking about the role of schools in society and how the over-professionalization of schools only works in a Taker society, etc.  Ishmael reminds me a bit of the writings of Paulo Friere, anyway, he proceeds with a story. (My personal application of this story was to religious education.)

The Story 

“Once upon a time a distinguished elder blue-winged teal by the name of Titi called a great conference of other distinguished elders to be held on the Isle of Wight in the English Channel.  When they were at last gathered and settled down, one slightly less distinguished blue-winged teal by the name of Ooli stepped forward to make some introductory remarks.

‘I am sure you all know who Titi is,’ he began, ‘but in case you don’t, I’ll tell you.  He is without a doubt, the greatest scientist of our age, and the world’s foremost authority on avian migration, which he has studied longer and deeper than any other teal in history, blue-winged or otherwise.  I don’t know why he’s called us together here at this time, but I don’t doubt that his reasons are excellent.’  And with that, Ooli turned the meeting over to Titi.

“Titi ruffled his feathers a bit to gather everyone’s attention, then said, ‘I’ve come here today to urge upon you a vitally important innovation in the rearing of our young.’  Well, Titi certainly got everyone’s attention with his announcement, and he was deluged with questions from teals who demanded to know what was supposed to be wrong with chick-rearing practices that had worked for blue-winged teals for more generations than any of them could count.'”‘

The Continuation of the Story in my words (to shorten it a bit)

Titi went on to explain all the things that were keeping the blue-winged teals from migrating efficiently and he proposed that instead of letting the parents teach the chicks how to migrate effectively and meaningfully, that he, Titi, would organize a school of professionals in the field of migration to teach more effective migration.  The blue-winged teals did not feel confident challenging such an expert so within a few years (ok, another quote from the book) “they were spending long evening hours with their chicks trying to comprehend and explain such things as tracking patterns, navigation mechanisims, degree of return, and degrees of dispersal and convergence.  Instead of frolicking in the morning sunshine, chicks learned calculus……………” and it goes on to describe all of the other scientific points needed in order to migrate effectively.

The Conclusion to the Story

“The initial failures of the new education system were spectacular but not unexpected………It was finally accepted that ordinary parents were not in fact qualified to teach their children anything as complex as migratory science. This was something only professionals could be expected to handle. [italics mine] Chicks were henceforth taken from the nest at an early age and turned over to a new cadre of specialists, who organized their young charges into brutally competitive units, imposing on them high standards, uniform testing, and harsh discipline.  A certain amount of adverse reaction to the new regime was expected and soon materialized, in the form of chronic truancy, hostility, depression and suicide among the young.  New cadres of truancy officers, guards, psychotherapists, and counselors struggled to keep things under control, but before long members of the flock were streaking away like residents of a burning building (for Titi and Ooli were not quite mad enough to think they could keep the flock together by force).

“After the two old friends watched the last remnants of the flock scatter in the sky, Ooli shook his head and wondered where they’d gone wrong.  Titi ruffled his feathers irritably and said, “We went wrong by failing to take into account a great truth, namely that teals are stupid and lazy, and perfectly content to stay that way.”


Well I read this and wonder about the question I keep hearing, “Why are young adults leaving the Church?”

Would invite your reactions to my thoughts……………………

My Ishmael.jpgQuinn, D. (1997) My Ishmael: A Sequel.  New York:  Bantam Books.

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