Posts tagged Animal Farm

Animal Farm Literacy: Achievement and Pretense

When I lived and taught English in communist Red China in the late 1980s I had heard of the ironic motto “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” This facetious slogan for the masses goes along with the “iron rice bowl” policy I wrote about a week ago.  I heard at a Kurbanait holiday supper last night a variation of this care-worn slogan again, “We pretend to teach while our students pretend to learn.”  I hope that more than just pretense happened in my classroom this past semester.  Some of my students achieved great things, they wrote inspiring words in English, their second or third language. I’m very proud of them. The following is what C.S. Lewis wrote about pretense:

 

There are two kinds of pretending.  There is a bad kind, where the pretence is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you.  But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing.  When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are.  And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were.  Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.  Mere Christianity, Book IV, Ch. 7.

 

Yesterday I finished the book Animal Farm, it is a short little “fairy tale” which takes an hour or so to read.  Then I looked up what the allegory was for all of George Orwell’s farmyard characters.  The following is what is commonly known, I had guessed right on the pigs  

Napoleon = Stalin and Snowball = Trotsky. 

Squealer the pig = Molotov and the Soviet paper Pravda

Major, the boar = Marx (Lenin?)

Minimus the pig = Gorky

Farmer Jones = Russian tsar

Frederick, the neighboring farmer, owner of Pinchfield = Hitler

Mr. Pilkington, the other feuding farmer = U.S. and U.K.

Battle of the Windmill = WWII

Mr. Whymper = George Bernard Shaw (I had thought he might have represented Walter Duranty)

Hens = kulaks who destroyed their eggs like the farmers who destroyed their produce

Sheep = masses

Moses the Raven = Russian Orthodox religion

Horn and hoof green flag = hammer and sickle

Boxer, the hard working horse = the proletariat

Mollie = bourgeoisie or nobility, the Russian diaspora

Benjamin, the donkey = the author, George Orwell

 

Writing can be a powerful thing if the meanings of words come across successfully to your reading audience.  The pen IS mightier than the sword and I hope my Kazakh students catch the essence of writing down their thoughts as often as possible so that what is documented can be looked back on in the future.  Practice makes perfect and their writing can eventually stir others to action for the betterment of this great country of Kazakhstan. 

 

The story of Animal Farm showed that those animals (the pigs and dogs) who could write the Seven Commandments on the side of the barn had power over those animals who remained illiterate.  In fact, those who wrote had power to change the meaning of the laws by adding just a few words to the end of each law in order to twist the commandment to their advantage.  Our memories are also important to remember the original truths.  My students have better memories at their young age than us older folks. Institutional memory is important to have in order to counter the lies and pretense that harms rather than helps.

 

We, as older veteran teachers, have the experience like the donkey Benjamin, to outlive the pretense and charades that went on during the former Soviet Union.  It is an achievement that the Animal Farm in real life was demolished 18 years ago but there are still remnants of the old thinking that is residual in our institution of higher learning.  What will it take to have a REAL education to change society?  Perhaps when teachers stop pretending to teach and REALLY teach and have a classroom full of students who REALLY want to learn.  That would be an achievement in any country, not just in Kazakhstan!  I think it happened in my classroom, I am hopeful and optimistic for Kazakhstan’s future.

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Hannah Arendt’s Totalitarianism vs. Animal Farm Literacy

I’m ensconced in my office with students’ files, papers, portfolios, exams, checklists, and scoring rubrics.  I’m familiarizing myself once again with the Excel spreadsheets in order to efficiently do my final grades for my four classes (about 60 students to account for).  I was interested by what C.S. Lewis wrote about Individualists and Totalitarian.  In our “western” institution of higher learning I’m struck with what we are required to do with our Central Asian students who have been taught by those former Soviet teachers who were under a totalitarian, communist form of government over 18 years ago.  It will take a generation or two to sift out the rigidity of one form of teaching to allow the students (and teachers) to breathe freely on the shallow academic air of freedom of expression and freedom of thought.

 

“When you find yourself wanting to turn your children, or pupils, or even your neighbours, into people exactly like yourself, remember that God probably never meant them to be that.  You and they are different organs, intended to do different things.  On the other hand, when you are tempted not to bother about someone else’s troubles because they are ‘no business of yours’, remember that though he is different from you he is part of the same organism as you.  If you forget that he belongs to the same organism as yourself you will become an Individualist.  If you forget that he is a different organ from you, if you want to suppress differences and make people all alike, you will become a Totalitarian.”  From Mere Christianity, Book IV, Ch. 6

 

In 1951 Hannah Arendt had published her seminal volume of “The Origins of Totalitarianism” coining the phrase which essentially means: A type of government that has total control over all aspects of its citizen’s lives.” From Answers.com.  Hannah was a Jew from Germany who was married to a Russian who had fled the Soviet Union’s form of totalitarianism.  She lived safely in New York where she could boldly write about her views of both forms of government, Soviet Union’s communists and the fascist Nazis.  Heavy stuff of which my Kazakh students have been writing about since the former regime of communism greatly affected their great grandparents and grandparents in the early days of collectivization in Kazakhstan and the subsequent call to arms to fight for the “Motherland” during the Great Patriotic War.

 

To stay on the lighter side, I’m reading Animal Farm and enjoying George Orwell’s view of the Soviet Union by taking a fictional spin around a farmyard once the animals had rebelled against Farmer Jones.  I’m guessing that Jones was the Russian tsar and that Major, the horse, was Marx and that the two pigs who don’t get along are Stalin and Trotsky. 

 

I had to laugh when I read the following about what Animal Farm’s rules were laid out for all the beasts of the newly emancipated farmyard.  This concerned their supposed reading and writing classes which were a seeming success:

 

“As for the pigs, they could already read and write perfectly.  The dogs learned to read fairly well, but were not interested in reading anything except the Seven Commandments.  Muriel, the goat, could read somewhat better than the dogs, and sometimes used to read to the others in the evenings from scraps of newspaper which she found on the rubbish heap.  Benjamin could read as well as any pig, but never exercised his faculty.  So far as he knew, he said, there was nothing worth reading.  Clover learnt the whole alphabet, but could not put words together.  Boxer could not get beyond the letter D.  He would trace out A, B, C, D in the dust with his great hoof, and then would stand staring at the letters with his ears back, sometimes shaking his forelock, trying with all his might to remember what came next and never succeeding.  On several occasions, indeed, he did learn E, F, G, H, but by the time he knew them it was always discovered that he had forgotten A, B, C and D.  Finally, he decided to be content with the first four letters, and used to write them out once or twice every day to refresh his memory.  Mollie refused to learn any but the five letters which spelt her own name.  She would form these very neatly out of pieces of twig, and would then decorate them with a flower or two and walk round them admiring them.” (p. 21).

 

May my students grasp the ideas I have presented them this semester with searching on the electronic research databases (Ebscohost, ProQuest, SAGE, InfoTrac, J-Stor) and NOT Googling for information or using Wiki-pedia.  May my students know how important a thesis statement is to help guide them to creating a manageable and readable essay.  May my students long remember to look up the intricacies of the APA formatting style on their own and know there are many other versions out there with their own picky rules (MLA, Turabian, Chicago, etc).  May my students enjoy writing as a way of expressing themselves.  May they always have a curiosity and love of learning and NOT do what everyone else is doing with cutting and pasting (better known as plagiarism).  May my students find out what information they need which is out there for them to synthesize and may they use their critical thinking skills to let others know just what smart students they really are!!!  After all, that is what education is all about, to find answers to life’s problems and find ways to solve questions for the betterment of mankind.

 

 

 

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Detractors Promote “What Orwell Didn’t Know”

A blog reader from Rockville, Maryland commented that I should read the latest book “What Orwell Didn’t Know.” I will counter his recommendation with the following about what George Orwell (aka Eric Blair) DID know, a lot more than this young, pseudo-researcher from the left. Orwell was a very popular author from 1945 once his post-war book of Animal Farm was published until his death in 1950. Orwell’s writings still are applicable today and this book has been translated into many languages. Obviously Orwell as a journalist DID know what was happening in Ukraine and other regions of the former Soviet Union. Read the following from Orwell’s Appendix of Animal Farm concerning the freedom of the press.

At present, not only is serious criticism of the USSR considered reprehensible, but even the fact of the existence of such criticism is kept secret in some cases. For example, shortly before his death [murder] Trotsky had written a biography of Stalin. One may assume that it was not an altogether unbiased book, but obviously it was saleable. An American publisher had arranged to issue it and the book was in print—I believe the review copies had been sent out – when the USSR entered the war. The book was immediately withdrawn. Not a word about this has ever appeared in the British press, though clearly the existence of such a book, and its suppression, was a news item worth a few paragraphs.

I’ve watched some of the “Why We Fight” series masterfully done by film director Frank Capra. This was supposedly a documentary and a propaganda piece for Americans to NOT be isolationist and get involved with the World War II. In fact, Stalin loved the Capra’s film series so much he insisted movie theaters throughout the Soviet Union show it to the populace with a Russian translator. Yes, Americans had sacrificed much on foreign shores with the First World War, they weren’t ready to do go over the Atlantic to fight again 30 years later. However, the Soviet Union needed the Allies help to combat the Nazi Germans. Living in Ukraine and Kazakhstan I am finding out how the Soviet Union’s history books have painted Stalin as the great war hero and all honor and praise is given him for winning the war!!!

According to Orwell, he wrote the following about what journalists back in the 1940s felt pressured to do:

Stalin is sacrosanct and certain aspects of his policy must not be seriously discussed. This rule has been almost universally observed since 1941, but it had operated, to a greater extent than is sometimes realized, for ten years earlier than that. Throughout that time, criticism of the Soviet regime from the left could only obtain a hearing with difficulty…The English intelligentsia, or a great part of it, had developed a nationalistic loyalty towards the USSR, and in their hearts they felt that to cast any doubt on the wisdom of Stalin was a kind of blasphemy. Events in Russia and events elsewhere were to be judged by different standards. The endless executions in the purges of 1936-8 were applauded by life-long opponents of capital punishment, and it was considered equally proper to publicise famine when they happened in India and to conceal them when they happened in the Ukraine. And if this was true before the war, the intellectual atmosphere is certainly no better now.

The issue involved here is quite a simple one: Is every opinion, however unpopular—however foolish, even—entitled to a hearing? Put it in that form and nearly any English intellectual will feel that he ought to say ‘Yes.’ But give it a concrete shape, and ask, ‘How about an attack on Stalin? Is THAT entitled to a hearing?’ and the answer more often than not will be ‘No.’ In that case the current orthodoxy happens to be challenged, and so the principle of free speech lapses.

One of the peculiar phenomena of our time is the renegade Liberal. Over and above the familiar Marxist claim that ‘bourgeois liberty’ is an illusion, there is now a widespread tendency to argue that one can only defend democracy by totalitarian methods. If one loves democracy, the argument runs, one must crust its enemies by no matter what means. And who are its enemies? It always appears that they are not only those who attack it openly and consciously, but those who ‘objectively’ endanger it by spreading mistaken doctrines. In other words, defending democracy involves destroying all independence of thought. This argument was used, for instance, to justify the Russian purges.

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Thankful for George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”

George Orwell wrote in a preface to his book Animal Farm in the Ukrainian translation the following quote.  His Ukrainian readers, who were trapped after WWII in Displaced Persons camps in Germany under the British and American administration, needed to know his background and why he wrote about Marxist theories from animals’ point of view.  These Ukrainians resisted returning to the USSR, knowing they would be killed back in their supposed “Motherland.”  The Ukrainians and others termed as “kulaks” had gone through so much BEFORE the war. (Think Holodomor of 1932-33).

 

November is the time of year when people in Ukraine honor those who died in this famine called a “genocide” perpetrated by Soviet policies as of 75 years ago. Many understand that other nationalities suffered as well, not just Ukrainians.  Unfortunately, not everyone will agree with the extent of how many people actually died and whether it was genocide or not.  For now it is interesting to read what George Orwell knew and when he knew it. (think sixty years ago).

 

Even if I had the power, I would not wish to interfere in Soviet domestic affairs: I would not condemn Stalin and his associates merely for their barbaric and undemocratic methods.  It is quite possible that, even with the best intentions, they could not have acted otherwise under the conditions prevailing there.

 

But on the other hand it was of the utmost importance to me that people in western Europe should see the Soviet regime for what it really was.  Since 1930 I had seen little evidence that the USSR was progressing towards anything that one could truly call Socialism.  On the contrary, I was struck by clear signs of its transformation into a hierarchical society, in which the rulers have no more reason to give up their power than any other ruling class.  Moreover, the workers and intelligentsia in a country like England cannot understand that the USSR of today is altogether different from what it was in 1917.  It is partly that they do not want to understand (i.e. they want to believe that, somewhere, a really Socialist country does actually exist), and partly that, being accustomed to comparative freedom and moderation in public life, totalitarianism is completely incomprehensible to them.

 

Yet one must remember that England is not completely democratic.  It is also a capitalist country with great class privileges and (even now, after a war that has tended to equalize everybody) with great differences in wealth.  But nevertheless it is a country in which people have lived together for several hundred years without major conflict, in which the laws are relatively just and official news and statistics can almost invariably be believed, and last but not least, in which to hold and to voice minority views does not involve any mortal danger.  In such an atmosphere the man in the street has no real understanding of things like concentration camps, mass deportations, arrests without trial, press censorship, etc.  Everything he reads about a country like the USSR is automatically translated into English terms, and he quite innocently accepts the lies of totalitarian propaganda.  Up to 1939, and even later, the majority of English people were incapable of assessing the true nature of the Nazi regime in Germany, and now, with the Soviet regime, they are still to a large extent under the same sort of illusion.

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