Das Neue Kindergarten


I’m listening to some old recordings of lectures  by Alfred Korzybski.  They are “Alfred Korzybski in the flesh”–or maybe, “in the ear canal”–and you hear emphases and flow in his teaching that you just can’t pick up from reading his lectures.

Simultaneously, I’m typing up into Microsoft Word a transcript of a seminar that Korzybski taught.  Between the two media that transmit his general semantics teachings, I started to get a sense of what place general semantics might have in the spectrum of public education:


General semantics is somewhat like the new kindergarten.  Granted, it would be an old kindergarten in the sense that it came out in 1933 with the publication of Korzybski’s tome Science and Sanity.  But it would be new in the sense that it presumably would found in children different ideas they presumably take away from kindergarten today.

Okay, I admit, I have no clue about what’s taught in kindergarten these days.  Manners?  The Golden Rule?  My guess is that there is also taught some very, very basic scientific ideas.  General semantics might fit nicely in that realm.  No, talk of electro-colloidal levels would have no place in public kindergarten, but teaching the abstracting process would.  As Korzybski would say, “it’s baby stuff.”

That general semantics might fit well in kindergarten shines light on one perspective of general semantics: That general semantics is an epistemology.  A wha??  That is, general semantics is a kind of knowledge.  It’s a selection of things that we know to this day.  And that selection, if in the heads of children early, could mean a heck of a difference in dispelling infantile understandings of the world and getting kids ready for the mindsets that lead to scientific advancement, and for what it’s worth, career success.

A notion like the general principle uncertainty teaches kids that they can’t know with 100% certitude, which teaches humility when faced with the desire to say they definitely know something is true, and also keeps their minds open to other possibilities than what they want to certainly believe.  “You can be overconfident.”

A notion like non-elementalism teaches kids that words can incorrectly suggest two things are separable when in reality they are interconnected and inseparable, heightening their awareness that words carve up things that can’t really be carved up.  “Words can misrepresent.”

And a notion like semantic shock can teach kids how words can disturb them, so to look at the words as a possible factor for unhappiness and disturbance.  Reality may not be the culprit: Reality is probably more indifferent than the words used to describe it.  Words disturb you more than reality.  “Words can hurt you.”

Alfred Korzybski tended to teach adults.  He was re-educating them.  He was re-educating them from what they thought they knew.  How might general semantics affect the adult population if it were taught not in adulthood but in kindergarten?  Might we progress as a culture more quickly?

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