Monday, August 19, 2013

Three Lessons Not to Learn in School

School is no place for children. The lessons taught eat away their innocence. The mean-spirited digestive juices remain, growling as they devour any Good that managed to escape the lessons of school. The products of our education system become the supportive tools of a larger system. The only intent of any of these systems is self-preservation without regard to Humans, their emotions or their needs. The lessons I learned from school influenced me greatly. The most influential of these are three lessons, the blatant wrongness of which allowed me to see the Evil in them and thereby escape from their control. I was able to unlearn the three main lessons I learned in school: that individuality isn't important, substance isn't necessary and what matters least matters most.

From the first time I was herded into a classroom with my fellow students, individuality began to lose its importance. All of us were given the same assignments. Some excelled, some failed. And those results brought about the first distinction from the group. Teachers did not use the results to adjust their methods to each student. Instead they placed those that did well into a new class, a privileged class. This class had a “harder curriculum”, as though difficulty is a purely objective quality. Though I had the privilege of being in the Gifted Class, I never had the privilege, and I don’t think anyone else did, of choice. Choice is an essential quality of individualism. However, we were not allowed to choose. What we learned, where we sat and even when we peed were only a few decisions made for us. And of course, single-file was the only way to travel. I grew up as part of a collective, and I was taught to value being in it. Standing out was bad. It was embarrassing. Being called out to answer a question in front of the entire class brought snickers from everyone that escaped such a cruel fate. Groups began to define me and my peers. The substance of a group is in the individuals of that group. But we had our individuality taken from us. We were just a group. That paved the way for simple labeling. Without individuality, we needed a way to define ourselves, and the only way to do that was with meaningless words that answer the question “What am I?” but not “Who am I?”

Now, substance began to erode away. It was no longer necessary. Grades helped take emphasis away from substance. An entire year’s worth of work and effort could easily be summed up in one letter. Cheating became commonplace. While officially illegal in school, cheating was encouraged by the teachers’ methods. Many would allow self-grading, or peer-grading. Half or more of a semester’s grade would be based on homework assignments, all of which were cheatable. My first semester as a sophomore in high school I obtained a D in Algebra II, though I never scored below 90 percent on any test or quiz. The cause for the low grade was my resistance to doing homework. I felt confident in my abilities, in my knowledge. I knew the material, and it was evident by my test scores. But I received a D despite this. The next semester I had to do something. Since we graded the homework assignments ourselves in class, I started to write down the answers onto a blank sheet of paper, as did several other students. This method got me an A every time. It didn’t rely on substantive knowledge, but simple labeling. The homework was worth an A because I said it was. Looking back, I can see how it was preparing me for the Real World. Today I often see the results of education in the value system of others. Nobody is thought of in terms of who they are, but only what they are. Many people are allowed to define what they are, and since who they are doesn’t matter, we can only judge them on their labels. President Bush is a prime example of this, and how it relates to school. His presidency has never been about substance. Instead, he has relied on labels to gain popularity. He labels the bad guys terrorists, enemy combatants, cut and runners, liberals, traitors, defectors, extremists and radicals. And when talking about himself or his policies, he uses words like honorable, patriotic (Patriot Act), Christian and freedom. And of course, people simply label him as stupid. Yet he was obviously smart enough to realize that the same substance-free value system we learn in school lives on afterwards, and he took advantage of that. He is no different from (and probably was) the popular guy in school that you look back on and wonder “Why was he so popular?” The answer is that school teaches everyone that substance isn’t necessary. Claims and labels give value to ideas and people. Claims and labels matter more than ideas and people.

And finally we arrive at the cruelest of school’s lessons: what matters most matter least. People matter. In school a person is defined by their grades, by their athletic involvement or even the clothes they wear. The goal becomes building up pseudo self-worth, devoid of substance and true individuality. Suddenly what a person is matters more than who they are. People no longer matter, a fa├žade of arbitrary titles take their place. These surface qualities matter more in school, and even outside of it, than the person. There was a “bad student” I knew growing up. He skipped class often, and his grades were terrible. He chose not to care about school, probably because after trying hard to succeed, he found he just couldn’t make good grades. School defined him as a failure. This failure is one of the greatest people I know. He’s fun, he’s considerate, and despite his poor academic performance, he is very clever. His true greatness came from freeing himself from school’s manipulative conditioning. He freed himself from this particular lesson, learning what truly matters, and being a better person for it. School teaches that the group matters more than the individual, that words matter more than substance, that grades matter more than knowledge, that rules matter more than necessity and that who you are means nothing in the face of what you are.

Thanks to these lessons I became what I am today. I felt the lack of respect for people inherent in school and was able to break away from it. However, I don’t have an answer for this problem. My children will likely learn the same lessons I did. But I am prepared to guide them through it. School will be a tool for my children to learn important material and explore t heir social desires, but it will not control their lives.