Foreword: Beware the dam builders, too

In 2014 I was honored to be invited to write the Foreword to Paul Thomas’ latest book, Beware the Road Builders. If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, here’s a convenient link.

I could write in short space about how much I admire and look up to Paul Thomas for the public scholarship he creates. Many thousands of people read and share his public writing each day, from blog posts to op-eds to journal articles to tweets. He’s constantly engaged in the discourse on public education for the sake of the students and teachers involved in it. I could share that he’s also a genuine and good-natured human, someone I’m proud to call a friend. He’s never been too busy to respond to an email or answer a phone call. I save bits and pieces of advice he’s provided and return to it, timely reminders of how to respond in difficult situations.

Instead, let me start by saying just how important I think this book is. Based on the coalescence of his writings on education and deep literary knowledge, Thomas blends the two in ways equal parts beautiful for their craft and terrifying for their truths in revealing the current situation. Every educator and parent needs a copy of this book, the consequences of people not reading and understanding the attacks on learning, children, and teachers outlined here are grave, embodied in the powerful and diverse literary imagery he uses to tell of the current attacks.

Reading it reminded me of a story that hits close to my home of Fayetteville, Arkansas, one that played out a century ago. William Hope ‘Coin’ Harvey, convinced that a greed-based society (later known as unbridled capitalism) would ultimately perish, made plans to build an obelisk in his resort at Monte Ne, Arkansas, to hold a time capsule, preserving the story of how America fell for future societies. Coin’s pyramid was to preserve copies of his financial book, The Remedy, as well as other cultural artifacts of a once great society.

Ill health eventually thwarted Mr. Harvey’s building plans but the model he provides is one that I urge public educators and parents follow after reading Beware the Road Builders. Whether we build an obelisk or the modern day version of making sure something lasts forever, the story of America and our education system is one presently imperiled by faux education reformers; if the current trends are not subverted and reversed, ones that we should all, following Giroux, bear witness to, books like this one will tell the story well, making it simple to tie the end of the American experiment to the loss of its’ system of public education.

Recognized by the National Council of Teachers of English in 2013 with the George Orwell Award for the defense of public language, P.L. Thomas is unflinching and unflappable, unequivocally taking corporate and government figures and ideas to task. Standing above others as what is surely the most literary of the education reform whistleblower texts, metaphors and images borrowed from our literary kin are expertly wielded, axes driving into our collective psyche a strong counter-narrative to prevailing and well-financed forces.

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William McComas, photo

Beware the road builders? Despite egregious wealth inequity in America today, Coin’s fatalistic predictions are not yet realized. His resort town sunk beneath the waters of manmade Beaver Lake in 1966, only rarely are the ruins seen when the water recedes in drought. One erect structure, part of two hotels built on the site, is surrounded with barbed wire and covered with decades of graffiti, a building with no capstone of books and artifacts for the future, only its crumbling self. The water I drink and bathe in daily originates from the lake, a public good that was certainly part of the campaign to dam the river and build the lake. But it is the same water covering Coin’s resort town and dreams that is now primarily the embodiment of consumerism, expensive boats racing back and forth in front of million-dollar houses, a well-off personal playground to the rich enabled by the government vis-à-vis the US Army Corps of Engineers. Beware the dam builders, too.

Suggested citation:

Goering, C.Z. (2015). Foreword: Beware the dam builders, too. In P. Thomas Beware the roadbuilders: Literature as resistance. (pp. 15-17) New York: Garn.