Thursday, May 1, 2014

Public Schools, Blech, Yech, Urp

Right before I turned five (meaning I wasn't even in kindergarten) one of my parents gave me a pencil and a pad. I started scribbling, because I desperately wanted to make a word. I didn't know why it was so important to me. I still don't.

When I showed my pad to my father, he said one of the words looked like "deer" (or perhaps "dear." I remember feeling awe. Now as to why I felt such awe over (maybe) making a word I also do not know. Perhaps it was because I created something, probably for the first time in my life.

Then I started kindergarten. It wasn't that bad, which means it wasn't that good. I don't have that many memories, but most of the are not that pleasant. After kindergarten, I remember first grade, when I was taught to read.

We used the "Dick and Jane" readers, and to this day I vividly remember how disappointed I was at how inane and vapid those stories were. Awe over making a word and intense disappointment when those words were put together to make stories. And it certainly put me off of reading, or being interested in stories, until I was about 11.

After the first grade, I don't remember anything until the fifth grade. I don't even remember that much from fifth grade. I do remember sixth grade, but very little of it good. I do know that from kindergarten to the sixth grade I have mostly memories of bad things and very few of good things.

Middle school - seventh grade - was hell. I didn't expect that at all. It was like walking off a cliff I didn't know was there. Eighth and ninth were okay, and in high school I sleep-walked through school and partied on weekends - which was a blast.

Then I graduated.

Looking back on my public school career, for all practical purposes I could have dropped out in the first grade. And one of the things I noticed is the attempt to destroy curiosity and play and the attempt to make me into a tape recorder spewing back nothing more than facts.

Or as Mr. Gradgrind said in Dickens' Hard Times: "Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the mind of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them."

The word "education" means "to draw out." Draw out what? That which is already there. Our inborn talents. But does it do that? For some, yes. For most, no. For many kids of a certain temperament, the public schools are about trauma, not education, not socialization.

I don't exactly remember when the thought occurred to me, but I decided public schools were machines, and students were cogs, and we were supposed to be stamped out as identical parts. But since people aren't machines, not even cogs, it has never worked very well, and it's working even worse now.

When I was in college (these days close to worthless) one of the classes I remember most vividly was an English class in which we were informed about the Machine State vs. the Natural State. I have found I can apply those themes to almost everything, which is why I refer to public schools as machines trying to stamp out cogs and rob us of our humanity - our curiosity, our desire to play.

I did get semi-educated, though. It involved my wandering around on weekends by myself at the age of 12, looking at things and then checking out books from the library to find out, for an example, why ants, who have no brains, were able to build complex societies.

In other words, I was outside, in nature...the Natural State.

The theme of the Machine State vs. the Natural State got started during the Industrial Revolution, specifically in England. Horrible things were done to people, all in the name of money and power. For one, there were the Enclosure Acts in England, which people were forced off their land by the State (i.e. the military) so they would have to work in the factories (which William Blake referred to as "Dark Satanic Mills").

Then there were the Clearances in Scotland, in which people were burned off their land. All of this was done by the State (and the police and the military) so people would have to spend their lives being Cogs in the Machine.

Because of those things (and others) I years ago decided the Purpose of the State is to Turn You Into a Machine. Public schools are part of the State, as are militaries and the police and prisons.

I recently did an article about The Eight Pillars of Greek Wisdom. In a nutshell they sought to be the best they could, though a restless curiosity. They believed this could only be achieved through freedom and individualism - that is, not being a Cog in the Machine.

If you want to see some movies about the Machine State vs. the Natural State, try The Elephant Man or Star Wars. Darth Vader is a bureaucratic example of the Machine State (the Empire) and the Ewoks represent the Natural State. Or try The Lord of the Rings (would you really want to live within range of the Eye of Sauron or deal with those expendable Cogs-in-the-Machine known as Orcs?).

So logically (and inescapably) the bigger the State, the more you lose your humanity as the State attempts to reduce you to a replaceable cog, just like the members of the Borg. The bigger the State, the bigger the military, the more powerful the police, the bigger the corporations...the worse it gets for you.

I understand why so many people are deserting the Machine, going rural, pulling their kids out of public schools, dumping the corporate rat race, becoming as self-sufficient as possible. Because they want to be free. So they can breathe. So their desire for play, their curiosity, doesn't wither and die.

They want to achieve what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi called "Flow": "the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does." That means in many ways regaining your innocence, becoming like a child.

The Machine doesn't understand this, and it never will. Sooner or later (as always happens) the Machine will grind to a halt. When that day comes (and I don't think it's that far off) people should be prepared for it.

Now that I think about it, I did learn something very important from public schools. Stay far way from them, and anything else to do with the Machine.


RobertW said...

Actually I always thought the Ewoks were pretty gay. Oh damn, can I be imprisoned now for saying that?

Quartermain said...

An article of interest:

Quartermain said...

A couple more articles: