They Schools

I received a letter on my birthday of this year from a friend who wrote to tell me that not only was our friendship over, it had never actually existed at all. This blog entry isn’t really about her, or about the letter, but it is about one very small very interesting part of the letter. When she was outlining all the reasons that she thought I was a completely worthless human being she included this little tidbit: that I had unrepentantly dropped out of high school and also out of college. Needless to say when I read that bit my mind was pretty blown. She thinks I’m shitty because I’m a high school dropout? I’m sad to say that she wasn’t the first person to tell me how much respect they’d lost for me because I “gave up on my education.” I don’t think there was a single sentence in the entire letter that didn’t break my heart into a thousand pieces but over months of re-reading that letter, as the rest of the insults started to hurt less, the remark that I was “anti-education” stuck with me like a canker sore.

So really what is education in America, and why do I hate it so much?

My own personal experiences with education are pretty typical of what school is in the US. I spent my years in the compulsory portion of school doing mindless repetitive busy work, taking standardized tests, being told to sit down and shut up by unenthusiastic and bitter teachers. I would wake up before the sun had risen to go to a school that looked like a 19th century factory and sleep through class after class that didn’t interest me. I then went to college and spent a few thousand dollars of borrowed money to learn that I was going to a second-rate institution with a bunch of basketball stars, frat boys, and party girls who were just trying to get by academically so their parents would continue paying their rent so they could live away from home and get trashed on the weekends and go see college basketball games. Overall I was not intellectually stimulated by my college experience.

I am not going to sing my own praises because it’s not that I’m necessarily a very intelligent person, but I am a person who has a real enthusiasm for learning in a universal sense. So why have I always hated school? You can’t blame my problems on my contrary attitude because for most of my life I was a very cooperative, open-minded, and curious kid. I don’t understand why a person who loves to learn would be so negatively impacted by a school system whose job ostensibly is to foster and augment that love of learning.

The undeniable fact of the matter is that the compulsory education system in the United States serves the primary purpose of shaping personalities and indoctrinating citizens and is concerned about educating children only as a secondary or even tertiary function. To say that school serves the purpose of educating is like saying the police serve the purpose of protecting ordinary citizens. Yeah every once in a while a cop happens to do some negligible act of benevolence and children do pick up some knowledge on their trip through school but these are collateral occurrences and don’t give any real insight into how the system really functions and why.

Industrial magnates including Rockefeller pretty much built the American educational system from the ground up by funding every research project, taskforce, or governmental agency that involved education and hand-picking the people who were to create a public school system for the country starting with the building of schools, the creation of some semblance of a universal curriculum, but more important than all this was the overall experience that a child would have in school. Schools were built to look and feel like factories and schoolwork was designed to condition children to be comfortable doing repetitive boring activities for hours on end while sitting quietly in uncomfortable chairs in stuffy brick buildings. Teachers serve the purpose of authoritarian first and educator second. The real lessons in school come from subtle, almost subliminal cultural norms that are taught alongside reading, writing, and arithmetic. Can someone explain to me the educational purpose of taking several minutes out of every school day to pledge allegiance to the American flag? The older I get the more indignant I feel at all the bullshit I was coerced into in school.

Rockefeller’s fingerprints are all over the US Education system which worked hard to stifle creativity, critical thinking, or intellectual curiosity in children for the purpose of creating functional, ideologically homogenous, easily trained submissive laborers and citizens to people the menial service economy that has replaced the industrial sector that we outsourced to Asia after Rockfeller’s death.

So I feel no remorse for dropping out of high school; in fact my only regret is that I did it at 17 and not at 14 because the longer you stay in that system the more brainwashed you get, and I feel sad everyday at how much of my personality is gone and can never be replaced thanks to 13 years of US “education”.

During the year that I attended the prestigious Virginia Commonwealth University I was disappointed across the board. To be fair I actually was much more intellectually stimulated than I was in high school but I naively came to college with the intention of studying subjects that interested me with little regard for trying to find a major that would benefit me professionally. When I got to college I realized very quickly that a four year university is nothing more than a really fancy technical college where people go to train for a job. I was disillusioned with the prospect of joining a bunch of middle class career-seekers whose only goal in life is to find a middle-management position where they can supervise poor people who never went to college. It’s sad to witness how much of a class divide there is in so-called “higher education”.

I signed up for classes absolutely giddy at the prospect of going to college because I believed in my blissful ignorance that universities were bastions of enthusiasm for learning as an ideal. I thought that everyone I met was going to be a scholar and that I would spend my days surrounded by brilliant people with interesting opinions. When I got to college nearly every person around me was in school to satisfy their parents’ expectations. I borrowed enough money from the government for my education to feed some smaller south Asian countries for a year and haven’t been able to afford to pay it back so now my credit is destroyed. I wish that I had realized six thousand dollars ago that I have no professional aspirations and that I was going to school in the hopes of someone eventually handing me a piece of paper to prove that I am smart to people who would otherwise want to insult my intelligence.

I don’t mean to denigrate people who go to college, because I think that there are many worthwhile and meaningful professions that require a college degree and I have nothing but respect for people who attend school in the hopes of being able to have a job that is fulfilling to them or beneficial to the world at large. I have no respect for people who follow along with a set path for their education simply because it’s expected of them. Universities have far too many students who attend to appease their parents, tread water academically, take up space that could be occupied by people with real aspirations, ceaselessly indulge in the “college culture” of binge-drinking and graduate with an absolutely meaningless degree.

In a perfect world, I would get a scholarship to a small university where I could indulge my intellect in all the subjects that interest me in an environment entirely free of stupid party culture and the infuriating obsession with college sports that is so pervasive at every university. A university without partying or sports? Yeah I know it’s a vain hope but we all have dreams and that’s mine.

Back to the birthday letter. In the end the part of the letter that was so sad to me was that my friend was so brainwashed as to be convinced that school = education and that any person who isn’t in school isn’t concerned with educating him or herself and that the only meaningful purpose of education is to further your progress in the professional world. I don’t believe in education for the sake of anything else, I believe in education for the sake of education.

In the end I think that my point can best be made with a quotation. This quote comes from a project my friend did for a college course in which she had to interview people about things they were thankful for. The following quote comes from a person –name withheld for pity’s sake — who graduated from college and has a degree in….something. The fact that these words were typed by a person who has spent at least 17 years being educated speaks volumes about the ineffective nature of education in our country:

“I am thankful that god created myself and works for my good and the good of everyone who believes. I don’t mean to say this as an ignorant thing if one doesn’t believe in god but I think that god isn’t what people say he is(especially christians, for example). I think sometimes people take the concept of god and format him as their own liking. But really, god is in everything. God is love. He is every good part of us and this world and to truly see him we must first become aware of our surroundings, who we are and all good energy that comes from us and that is god. I am thankful to become more aware of life, to see good in others, to be given the ability to love, the gift of faith, for family and friends not just that they are those things but that they are there to help lighten my burdens when they come, to learn about others and for so much more. I am thankful for life.

Amen.