Friday, September 19, 2008

Nancy Wallace, RIP

I am saddened to find out, from Patrick Farenga on, of the passing of Nancy Wallace, a pioneering homeschooling parent and author going back to the very early days of the modern homeschooling movement.

It seems just yesterday that I discovered in the NYPL stacks (largely due to its provocative title and its introduction by John Holt) Wallace's wonderful 1983 book Better Than School: One Family's Declaration of Independence, in which she recounted in a charming, readable manner her experiences homeschooling her children, Ishmael and Vita (at the time, 11 and 7 years old, as depicted on the cover) in New Hampshire and Ithaca, NY, at a time when the homeschooling movement had yet to gather its current legal and organizational status. I can attest that, as Farenga puts it, her "prose was full of gentle insight". (I will definitely put up a review when I get the chance.)

Farenga describes his and Holt's perspective on their longtime, mutually supportive relationship with the Wallaces (which is depicted from the other side in Better Than School), includes some excerpts from Wallace's writing (from Growing Without Schooling magazine, Better Than School, and a subsequent 1990 book Child's Work: Taking Children's Choices Seriously) and reveals that Ishmael and Vita, whose intense interest in music is described in detail in Better Than School, now have a successful musical career, playing together as a violin/piano duo in NYC.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Bookchin and Bugs Bunny: found at last!

One of the more (in)famous examples of anarchist humor is the original pamphlet cover of Murray Bookchin's famous 1969 essay "Listen, Marxist!", which criticized Marxist groups like Progressive Labor Party that were part of the sectarianism which was pulling apart SDS. The cover lampooned the propensity of Marxist books to put a succession of faces on the cover to correspond with their hyphenated ideologies by including the faces of Marx, Engels and Lenin — but then adding Bugs Bunny to the mix. This was mentioned in my original RIP for Bookchin posted here in 2006, and also by Jesse Walker and Eugene Plawiuk — and Todd Gitlin in The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage:
SDS's 1969 convention, its last, met in the cavernous Chicago Coliseum, amid a veritable counterconvention of reporters (excluded), FBI agents (equipped with long lenses on the third floor of a vacant building across the street), and hundreds of police milling around, in and out of uniform, snapping pictures. Of the fifteen hundred delegates, perhaps a third were controlled by PL. Perhaps another third were divided between the Weathermen and their short-term allies, the upholders of a rival version of a Revolutionary Youth Movement — RYM II for short, in the arcane jargon of the time. (Among the RYM II supporters was a Bay Area faction passing out a pamphlet called The Red Papers adorned with portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin.) The remaining third were baffled newcomers, dazed rank-and-filers, and other tendencies casting anathema on all the leading factions—most inventively a grouplet of anarchists passing out Murray Bookchin's corrosive pamphlet Listen, Marxist! with its cover pictures of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Bugs Bunny. The rest of the organization—tens of thousands of national members, and who knew how many members of individual chapters —voted with their feet and stayed away. So did almost all the old and middle-period hands of SDS. Reports filtered back from Chicago as if from another planet— or rather, from a moon in orbit around one's own, for that bone-white light, that silver deathliness, had the familiar look of reflected light.

The funeral had its farcical aspects. To score points against PL, the Weathermen-RYM II coalition trundled out Third World allies; representatives of the Young Lords, Brown Berets, and finally, of course, the Black Panthers, whose Illinois minister of information in the course of a diatribe against the "armchair Marxists" of PL suddenly launched into a celebration of "pussy power," proclaiming that "Superman was a punk because he never even tried to fuck Lois Lane." (The anarchists' Bugs Bunny cartoon turned out more realistic than they could have imagined.)
(I especially like the way Gitlin swings around for an unexpected second mention of the cover.)

But as famous as Bookchin's prank is, it's also one that's more often talked about than actually seen. I remember, when writing the RIP in 2006, looking all over the Internet to try to find a scan of the fabled cover, to no avail. But it turns out that subsequently and with little fanfare, NYU's Tamiment Library put up a scan of the Bugs Bunny cover as part of their Flickr collection of scans of anarchist material from their archives (in keeping with the theme, Mickey Mouse also appears).