Tag Archives: war and economy

The Assembly Line Mentality and Public Education — Feeding from the Same Trough?

My mother was a World War II “We Can Do It” poster girl. When she wasn’t seated at her sewing machine making gowns and coats and fully lined three piece suits, she worked a semi-automatic machine at Csencsis Manufacturing, a shop which produced nuts and bolts for the war effort.

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Every morning, my brother and I would awaken to her shrill holler, frantic herald that our nocturnal sludge threatened to make her late for work. The round jar of Pro-Tek greeted us on the toilet tank, next to her fragile hairnet, foreshadowing that petroleum products intended to protect skin from the stain of petroleum products would shorten her life. And, every day after we walked to school, she’d stand at the noisy, oil spewing tool, tapping and threading out “piecework” until the buzzer signaled either lunch or the end of her shift.

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Like everything else mum did, she excelled at the numbers; her quota always long exceeded, the other workers grumbled that her standard was beyond expectation and made them look lazy. But, to her, one must put one’s hand to the plow and do the work to one’s best ability. This was all part of the grand order of things: the assembly line of life, and her part in it.

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Back in school, mum was a math “whiz”, and tutored other students. She also wrote clever verse, and kept a diary. But, hers was a life of deferred dreams; winning a sewing contest as a girl, the award — a trip to New York, to study fashion — was aborted when the Great Depression called a halt to everything, and the French soldier pen pal over whose letters she obsessed would never come to the States to finally meet; instead, she would deliver the home baked bread door to door, take in sewing, and marry the Italian soldier, who appeared on the night train just in the nick of time to save her from a life with preacher Willie. Once the war ended and the dust settled, dad would have a house built for her and faithfully carry home the cash from his barbershop, on Saturday nights, to count it on the kitchen table.

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The extra money earned in the machine shop meant more material for our clothes, which were all handmade by her, and food for the cooking; my brothers and I ate at mealtime, then dad would arrive home by 8pm to sit down and eat his supper alone. I never had any memory of mum having supper with any of us.

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While mum was at work and dad was at work, I’d be up the hill to Lincoln School, watching the other children in my class, trying to remain in my scratchy spot on the Kindergarten rug, cringing bewilderedly at Mrs. Williams gentle scowl every time I opened my mouth, then stretching my arm as high as it could go and waving my hand until she finally let me speak. There were so many things in the classroom — easels, for painting; a piano for playing; so many books to read; so many things to make. I would look around, at everybody on the rug, then stare at the teacher’s laced up shoes, waiting, waiting for a moment to do what I wanted to do. To my eye, everything in that room was there to be used, and I couldn’t stand sitting while we talked about the calendar and the days of the week and what time it was until we could finally do any of it.

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Twenty five years later, I would be at the front of the room, facing hundreds of children, all week long. For the first time, I could actually see all their faces, and absorb their expressions. And, for twenty five more years, I did this every week from September to June.

Fifty years went by; had I contributed anything important?

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The assembly line mentality had herded me, and my mother before me, into a predictable, limited life. I grew up to perpetuate the myth that controlling the masses mattered most, that a democratic majority could be found among those who followed along. Somehow, in spite of intellectual strength and inborn gifts, my mother would die at age 76 from a cancer which had never, before or since, appeared in any member of her family, a disease which the assembly line had wrought, caused by multiple chemicals produced in shops, chemicals used on the lawn at which she knelt all summer weeding the flower gardens, chemicals in the artificially sweetened beverages she drank to lose mid section weight brought on by daily, sedentary toil and malnutrition, chemicals in the air surrounding the manufacturing machine and in the water she used to make her coffee.

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The assembly line generation is fearful that their jobs will be replaced by artificial intelligence. This is borne of a lulled sense that, apart from the job they do all day, their lives have no further value. And, that is tragedy on the cusp of realization.

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Ours is a structurally outmoded society. And yet, those in power persist in allowing war to dictate how our economy survives. If this doesn’t change, we could very well starve to death before we have ever truly lived.

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© 8/1/19  Ruth Ann Scanzillo      Originally published at Medium.com    Thank you for respecting original material.

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