I do, third grade, Fullerton, California, Ford Elementary, a strange Booklet, a sharpened number two pencil. Mrs. Leander said, “Begin.” Soon came “Stop.” Then “Turn the page…Begin.” This woman, as kind and encouraging as any teacher in my life, did not say this was an IQ test. What eight-year-old would have understood? But statewide, third grade was the year a student received an IQ number. Did the crude grading machine in Sacramento indicate that Gail Wilson ignored parts of the test?” I was not deemed an imbecile but not far from it. I only felt the result of this when I entered high school and IQ affected placement. The number more important than excellent grades in junior high.
What section of the IQ test had I failed to do? Anything with geometric shapes and manipulating them. By eight I read voraciously but disliked numbers. The day of my first timed test, I remember looking out the window, wanting to be outside. A child of nature then, walking beside the Pacific, collecting seashells. Or in the Sierra Nevada at my grandparents’ cabin with a wood stove beside a stream in a forest.
The book I loved more than any other was The Yearling. Jody lived with candles or darkness. Ma Baxter had a cast-iron wood stove that burned logs and kindling. I relished Little House on the Praire & read the series repeatedly, along with The Black Stallion books. Oh, to be on an island. Early in life I concluded I had been born in the wrong century; that I must have lived earlier, before electricity, when no machines ruled life. I feared plugging anything into an electrical socket because of frequently being shocked. In high school I wrote an essay titled, “A Dam is Taking Over Our Lives.” A Divine Automatic Machine. (I left off the letter N!)
At this time in the late 1950s, I would not have heard of Jacques Ellul: a French philosopher, sociologist, theologist, professor, and author of fifty books.
His work throughout the 1950s concerned the effect of machines on humanity, on mechanical activities performed in the shortest time with the least possible effort, which would lead to the production of faster and better machines.
I read about this Frenchman in the September 2023 Commonweal. The article, “More Than Machines,” is by Nolen Gertz, who discusses Jacques Ellul’s ideas and AI’s threat. I also read, “The Despots of Silicon Valley” by Adrianne La France in The Atlantic’s latest issue (March 2024). In the February London Review of Books, I twice read a long article “In the Shadow of Silicon Valley” by Rebecca Solnit, who wrote Orwell’s Roses, a book I used in a course not long ago.
What if I could ask Chat GPT to digest the three articles and come up with a page for next week? If asked to do this, might AI incriminate itself? Since I don’t have the capacity to do this (though someone out there might), I will endure the mental hodgepodge of working through many thoughts, and to see what emerges for next week.