Monday, March 25, 2013

We Have Met the Enemy.... and He Is Us

I found myself bemoaning the state of education in the United States with an online friend this morning. Even though on political issues we are sometimes at opposite ends of the spectrum, we often find points of agreement, and education is one of them. Our public schools are now spitting out hordes of students who haven't been taught to think for themselves, or to even value the idea of being able to think for themselves. Part of this we laid at the feet of the standardized testing movement, as if all education in the country should be standardized, as if every corner of this large country has identical educational needs. But no, now educrats--who've never set foot in a classroom themselves--are dictating the curriculum, awarding school funding based on standardized test scores, and so on, so naturally school districts are wasting time teaching kids lists of bullet points and how to regurgitate trivia. Creativity, innovative thinking, heck, just reasoning your way through a problem of fairly easy pros and cons, are things that aren't conducive to "multiple guess," easy to score by machine tests, so these more important skills are falling by the wayside.

We are in the process of producing a generation of obedient workers, people who know enough to learn a process and how to carry it out but not how to invent a process, and certainly not how to think for him or herself and question the sanity of the system.

We've read Elie Wiesel's Night in my pre-freshman comp class (easy book, high school level) and I asked my class a question today: "Could something like the Holocaust happen in America today?"

I got no answer. Nada. Zilch. No answer. Blank expressions. Dead silence. Finally a hand went up. "Of COURSE it can!" "Of course it can," I agreed. We'd spent only two classes going over how Hitler and the Nazis rose to power despite getting only about 33% of the vote from the German people, yet quite legally, and how denial is such a powerful factor in the lives of so many, and how fear can prevent people from speaking up, and how our own country hasn't been immune to scapegoating others, or conjuring up attacks on us out of thin air, or putting people like the Japanese in concentration camps, and the list goes on. I pushed her for her reasoning and she cited some of the above, along with something we hadn't discussed--the "wave experiment"--which was an excellent point, to which I added the Stanford Prison Experiment, but here is what made me sad. The student who was able to answer my simple question was an international student. She's still learning English. But the kid can THINK. She's informed. She cares. She did not receive her high school education in the United States.

So, I look at the photo posted above, and I think, "That little world--get a job, consume, work harder because you consume, and repeat, repeat, repeat, until you die" is the world we inhabit. If I ask my students today their primary reason for going to college, the answer is "to get a better paying job." So few seem to care WHAT field, what career, what personally excites them, what is meaningful work to them--they just want to make money. And for what? To consume. Their minds are trapped in a tiny cage.

I'm reminded of that old McDonald's commercial: "Get up, go to work, come home, go to bed. Get up, go to work, come home, go to bed. Get up, go to work, come home--GO TO MCDONALD'S!" As if buying a Big Mac were the highlight of your week....

Fortunately, we all have more power than we think we do. There are other ways to live in this world. Things will not make anyone happy. Einstein said we're all geniuses.... but if you judge an elephant by its ability to climb a tree, the elephant is going to look awfully stupid. Find your own talents, the gifts that are wonderfully, uniquely YOURS. Pursue that. Screw the money, the car, the fancy planned obsolescence gimmicky gadgets, society's pressure to "live in the real world, and be a drone." Be a totally idealistic unrealistic person. Do not conform because you think you have to, or because that's the only way. Don't believe it. Think for yourself, and forge your own path in the world.

Be free.

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