Perhaps city, wearied of leadership, will seek relief in the free market

Hundreds of Chattanoogans heard Mark Whitacre, an executive who was a corporate mole for the FBI and was also convicted of fraud.

By David Tulis

The Chattanooga leadership prayer breakfast Tuesday at the convention center offered benefits to Christians and others who were able to hobnob, to see and be seen at a yearly event of notables that drew 1,500 people to an early breakfast. The chief benefit was a vigorous apologia for Christianity by Mark Whitacre, a man convicted in a F$9 million fraud against his employer, Archer Daniels Midland, during which time he worked in the highest offices of the company as a mole for the FBI, grubbing about for a price-fixing scandal.

Actor Matt Damon plays Mark Whitacre, right, in the movie “The Informant.”

Amid the sausage, egg, potatoes, fruit, coffee and the pleasant conversation (I sat with Bob Benjamin of T-Mate and Eric Pelton the accountant) before and after the main event, it occurred to me just how thoroughly we have been denatured by national economy here in Chattanooga.

We live in a city that cannot have its own head about its future. Its operating assumptions today are a restructuring of reality pounded into shape since the Progressive era of the late 1800s (the rise of the regulatory state) or, at the latest, the administration of Franklin Roosevelt.

A shock that gives us to sharpen our gaze upon horizons past is the attack of newspaper columnist David Cook on standardized testing in Hamilton County schools. On April 24 he riveted newspaper readers, local social media sites, the school family networks and the homeschooling mom Yahoo groups with an essay, “TCAP stole your kid.”

On Tuesday he followed through with details about the origins of this mechanical arm of the schooling establishment, this welding machine and processor that tidies away the wispy unaccountables of the human soul that creep into teaching and comprise real learning among students.

Leadership vs. the free market

For local economy to succeed, it will need more of a free market. Local economy, as people such as Internet marking adviser Jon Moss of Moss Media Labs will tell you, is about relationships, be they via the Internet, social networking, advertising or attending Chamber of Commerce events. Relationships imply freedom of action, an absence of coercion, an unimpeded reach of a service provider toward the customer whom he serves and whose lot he improves. Law and administration are vertical. Relationships are horizontal.

Now, the prayer breakfast has as its aim only the best and truest: “To encourage morality and ethics in the lives of all people in positions of leadership in business, in government, and in the professions.” School Supt. Rick Smith read from 1 and 2nd Corinthians. An executive from Kenco logistics led in a prayer for national and state leaders (officials). After another reading from the Word of God, obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Patricia McLelland prayed for city and county officials and thanked God for their desire to serve. She implored our sovereign for His protection amid “hard decisions” and asked that opposition “melt away before them” as they weigh the public’s needs.‡

It is understood that God ordains every person holding public office to hold that office; it is not disputed that He makes kings and nations rise and fall, and that officeholders have a duty to fear Him and to not offend His laws. It is understood that Christian citizens and residents owe duty and fealty to the office which in scripture is described as bearing the sword, and to give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s (taxes, let’s say).

But the free market is jealous.

It is jealous of modern civil government for having shrunk its domains, which parallel those jurisdictions of family and church (under which we find private charity and the free market).

The free market is unhappy that officialdom has built on its fields blockhouses, walls, ditches, tollboths, customs houses, subsidized neighborhoods, SWAT storerooms, precincts, districts and government real estate in its domains. Christendom insists the magistrate have a court, to judge the evildoer, and a jail, to hold people temporarily prior to trial; it insists the magistrate have a sword, and means of gathering armed force as necessary for protection from internal and external threat. Still, Christianity allows — it conceives of — a free market. It allows, too, the “multitude of new offices,” referred to by the Americans in their declaration of independence, and it allows ”swarms of officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance” and “standing armies without the consent of our legislatures” and the like.

It allows them how? As denaturements, as curses, as punishments, if we consider the morning’s arguments. Mr. Cook’s outcry against the machinery for human standardization tell us how far local economy is suppressed. That we have a leadership breakfast testifies of our secret desires, our hidden confidence in the political and the compulsory

The leader concept; blind following the blind?

I have always been made uneasy by leaders, by the concept of the leader. Newspaper reporters use the word “leader” when they should be using “official” or “council members.” These are neutral words. Leader is not a neutral word.

It evokes ardor, submission, hopes, confidence in the expertise and goodwill of people better than ourselves. Candidates for public office often sell themselves as leaders rather than the humbler representative. Two evidences give mixed results as regards my claim. Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary gives a leader as “one that leads or conducts; a guide; a conductor” and also “a chief; a commander; a captain” and “one who goes first.” Christ uses the word once in the authorized version of the scripture in reference to the Pharisees, “They are blind leaders of the blind,” in Matt. 17:14. In the reign of Hezekiah, an angel of the Lord “cut down every mighty man of valor, leader, and captain” in the Assyrian army, 2 Chron. 32:21. In Isaiah are two uses; “For the leaders of this people cause them to err” (6:19) and a reference to David as “a leader and commander for the people” (55:4). These uses are harmless for my cause today, neither strongly supporting it nor unsettling it.

But I go on. Because Chattanooga looks to leaders, it has political economy, remotely controlled. By whom? By unaccountable national actors who look upon local economy, local character, Noogacentrism and the unique provincialism of Eastern Tennessee as might a diner averse to caterpillars give the squint to a 12-legger creeping across a salad leaf.

Last week and this, schoolchildren in the public system are under the gun of standardized tests. Between 2003 and 2009 the state department of education paid more than F$89 million in contracts to six corporate creators of standardized tests, half of it with money from Uncle, Mr. Cook says. The state exams control the classroom and stifle creativity, individuality and the teacher-student relationship. “[T]o insert the monster of standardized testing into the center of the classroom, thus proclaiming it the most important thing schools do all year, is to doom this generation and future ones to a bland, robotic and utilitarian experience with education” (italics added).

‘Dangerous products of imagination’

Leaders are people who have brought us this state school system because it reflects whom we have become, we Chattanoogans, we Americans. Leadership is that grouping of people, that assemblage of ideas, that brings us to follow. Leadership brings us to submit and to accept what John Taylor Gatto calls a “conspiracy against ourselves.”

“Our economy has no adequate outlet of expression for its artists, dancers, poets, painters, farmers, filmmakers, wildcat business people, handcraft workers, whiskey makers, intellectuals, or a thousand other useful human enterprises — no outlet except corporate work or fringe slots on the periphery of things. Unless you do “creative” work the company way, you run afoul of a host of laws and regulations put on the books to control the dangerous products of imagination which can never be safely tolerated by a centralized command system. Before you can reach a point of effectiveness in defending your own children or your principles against the assault of blind social machinery, you have to stop conspiring against yourself by attempting to negotiate with a set of abstract principles and rules which, by its nature, cannot respond. Under all its disguises, that is what institutional schooling is, an abstraction which has escaped its handlers. Nobody can reform it. First you have to realize that human values are the stuff of madness to a system; in systems-logic the schools we have are already the schools the system needs; the only way they could be much improved is to have kids eat, sleep, live, and die there.

“Schools got the way they were at the start of the twentieth century as part of a vast, intensely engineered social revolution in which all major institutions were overhauled to work together in harmonious managerial efficiency. *** ” (Italics in original)

I leave you with Mr. Gatto’s words to remind you of the prayer at the morning podium pleading to God that opposition to our local political leaders might melt away before them. How about not?


urces: John Taylor Gatto,

The Underground History of American Education[;] A Schoolteacher’s Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling,” (New York: Oxford Village Press, 2000), 412 pp. Special author’s edition. has posted this book. Read the chapter from which my quote is taken.

David Cook, “Take back the TCAP,” Chattanooga Times Free Press, April 24, 2013

David Cook, “TCAP stole your kid,”  Chattanooga Times Free Press, April 30, 2013

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