Sunday, July 22, 2012
Post-Traumatic School Disorder
I have only one recurring nightmare, which I have about once a year, and have had since I graduated high school.
It is the last day of my senior year, and I suddenly realize there is a required class that I have not been to all year. Unless I take the final and pass it, I will have to go another year, while all my friends are away at college. I will be 18 years old, stuck for another year with a class of 17-year-olds. It gives me the exact same feeling as being a high school senior and being returned to first grade. "You have to repeat everything from first grade to high school...you'll be 30 when you finally graduate high school." It's like being an adult and forced to sit at the kiddie table all your life during Christmas.
Usually, I can't find the class. Space and time are distorted. New hallways appear; when I turn around the ones behind me are gone. I feel like some of Lovecraft's Elder Gods are in charge of the universe and have especially targeted me for torment. I'm in a panic. The layout of the school is different. I'm disoriented, and spend what feels like hour after strange hour looking for the class. Sometimes I do find it. I don't recognize the teacher or any of the students. They look at me like I have waving antennae sprouting from my head. The teacher is a pudgy spinster with a faded sack-like dress and cat's-eye glasses. She looks like Miss Wormwood in the comic strip, “Calvin and Hobbes.” The test appears to be Corfu, or worse, calculus (I can never make out the numbers). I always fail and am condemned to another year in high school.
Occasionally I wake up and am so disoriented I've gone to the front door, opened it and stuck my head outside, because I feel like I'm suffocating. I tell people I have Post-Traumatic School Disorder. I should sue someone.
Some of my friends have the almost the exact same nightmare. How can that be? Is there a Nightmare Factory somewhere cranking out the same nightmares, and parceling them out when we're asleep? I don't have nightmares about college or any job I've had. It's always the last day of high school. I'll bet I could write a book, call it The Last Day of High School, and many people would buy it for the title.
I had some great times in high school, but it was on weekends. School was a sentence to be served – sit, march, sit, march, sit, march, walk on the right side of the staircase. We had an Up staircase, and a Down one, just like in Bel Kaufman's book about school, Up the Down Staircase. I was bored silly and sometimes fell asleep in class. It's a feat to fall asleep sitting up, but I managed it. Some other kids managed it, too. Some couldn't quite pull it off and instead looked like the almost-passed-out kids in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, when Mr. Monotone himself (Ben Stein) was unwittingly torturing them with his lecture.
How did the schools turn out like this? From what I've been able to gather, the sit-march-sit structure of the public schools was originally to train students into being obedient little automatons for corporate businesses. A three-month summer vacation was intended for students to help with the harvest.
Talk about being over 100 years behind the times. Three months off for harvest? When's the last time that was necessary? 1910? And training students as automatons for corporate America? That certainly is not the way to create a nation of polymaths.
John Taylor Gatto, author of The Underground History of American Education, claims that modern public schools were inventions of people like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan. Along with the help of "efficiency expert" Frederick W. Taylor, they designed the schools to create standardized employees and customers. The boredom and alienation was intentional, in order to produce good consumers. Learning and character were secondary. The purpose of the public schools, according to Gatto, was to serve the unholy marriage of corporate Big Business and the State (Mussolini called this “corporatism,” which he wrote was the correct definition of fascism).
I don't believe the structure to the schools these men wanted was any kind of evil conspiracy. I'm a believer in what Napoleon said: "Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity." These corporate businessmen apparently believed they were doing good. I'm sure they thought, "After all, we are trying to produce good workers and consumers. What is wrong with that?"
What is wrong with "that" is the schools are supposed to develop critical thinking skills, and create knowledgeable students with good characters. Not "good workers" and "good consumers." Being a good worker automatically comes from having a good character. It's not like you can have the first without the second.
Public schools have become so boring that kids are now drugged with Ritalin so they can sit still and pay attention. When I was in high school many of the kids used marijuana, which calmed them down. They didn't use booze, which oftentimes makes people combative.
I suppose Ritalin, an unnatural drug related to cocaine, is okay to place within children's brains because the State approves of it and has made it legal. Would parents approve if doctors prescribed coca leaves, which South American Indians have used for thousands of years with no ill effects? What's the difference, except one is legal and the other is not? Or that coca leaves are safer than Ritalin?
I'm sure that Rockefeller, et al didn't realize that the boredom and drudgery of public schools would ultimately lead to drug use – legal and illegal – so the kids could combat the ill effects of sitting and marching all day. There is also a massive drug problem in similar institutions, such as prisons and the military. Why can't the "experts" see these similarities? Maybe that old joke is true – "ex" means "has-been" and "spurt" means "drip." Most "experts" are a bunch of has-been drips.
I tell people I never learned a thing in between first grade and graduation day. I didn't, either. I think I may have brain damage. I could do math in the first grade. The ability disappeared soon after.
I blame most educational problems on the State's interference in schools. When the State gets involved, competition ceases. Without competition, the quality goes down. You can believe in that as a law of nature, just as you can believe the sun will always rise in the east.
I'm as free-market as they come, which means I believe in schools completely free of the State and corporations. Corporations are themselves creations of the State, since they have the legal status of persons. Remove that protection, and I suspect many of these gigantic multinationals would disappear. The free market would set the size of a business, not the State.
The public schools shove kids together who in life would have nothing to do with each other. The kids get around this by forming cliques. Sometimes the whole school turns into pool of piranhas. It wasn't for nothing that Stephen King's first novel, Carrie, was a best-seller, and turned into a hit movie. And what was it about? Public high school. And what did the survivors end up with? PTSD.
The tragic victim of King's novel, Carrie White, was a scapegoat and an outcast, just like most of the school shooters. Carrie not only destroyed the school and many of the students, she destroyed the town. "The artist is the antenna of the race," wrote Ezra Pound. All the chattering classes pontificating and scratching their brains about the school shootings would be better off paying attention to a horror writer instead of a bunch of doctorates in worthless fields such as psychology and education.
Want to see another movie about the boredom and alienation in public schools? Try the aforementioned Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It's about a kid who has outsmarted the system and is free of it. And what does his nemesis – the high school principal – want more than anything else? To make sure Ferris doesn't graduate so he has to spend another year in school. My nightmare on film.
Unfortunately, for a lot of kids – especially the smarter ones – high school is about having your brains permanently warped. If that isn't true, then why so many nightmares for so many people? Nightmares that have even made it into well-known movies (try Donnie Darko for another one). The saddest part is that the nightmares – inside our heads and outside – can be avoided by preventing the State from meddling in something that is none of its business – education.