Stumped, Part Four: Living In The Aftermath

So here we are, the grand finale of my little saga of pissing and moaning about how sick and mean and cruel our schools are. Reading back on the previous three installments, I sometimes cringed; I sounded petulant, whiny, brash in that sophomoric know-it-all way that many 15-to-21 year-olds are before they get tossed feet-first out of their little adolescent test tubes and get their asses kicked by real life. All I’ve really been doing is spewing my personal vendetta against institutionalized education which doesn’t bear much in common with most peoples’ school experiences, but using universal terms to make it seem otherwise. It would be a lame manipulation game on my part, except for one small detail…

Everything I said was true. And so is everything I’m about to say.

Kindergarten through college amounts to glorified obedience training, a maladaptive leftover of Industrial Revolution-era political and corporate corruption that no one wants to address because that would mean having to address current political and corporate corruption, which would mean dismantling civilization as we know it. It’s much easier to distract us by dangling the golden carrot of “success” over our heads and shaming those of us who don’t jump high enough.

Once they’ve put the fear in you, the rest is a foregone conclusion. Whether you made it through the ringer and got a swanky office gig or you didn’t and you’re sweeping the office floor at the end of the day, you’re still caught in the same Pavlovian loop. And no matter which flipside of the same coin you’re on, you don’t quite know how you got there. It feels like someone kept you blindfolded for the first quarter of your life only to turn you loose in a world you couldn’t have imagined. Not knowing what else to do, you just latch onto whatever security you can find and hold on for dear life.

I talked about this with a respected communications lawyer based in Washington DC. An alumnus of Harvard and University of Chicago Law School with nearly 30 years of experience, world-famous clients, and a suitably generous salary, he is, for all intents and purposes, the epitome of the American Dream. I wanted to know what role his prestigious education played in all of this.

His assessment was rather bleak. He said he wished he could go to school now. He said that at the standard school age, people are at their most arrogant, the narrow boundaries of their sheltered adolescent lives having led them to believe that they have everything figured out. Not very conducive conditions for learning, are they? He went on to note that age and the accompanying gradual realization that so much is beyond one’s control or understanding has a humbling effect on people, making them more open-minded, more curious. Now in his late fifties, he firmly believes that his education would have been far more effective had he gotten it at his current age, now that he’s seen for himself how that knowledge fits into the world at large.

The real crisis in American education is not anything we read about in the papers or debate in forums. It’s not anything that can be blamed on bureaucrats or politicians alone. And it’s not anything that can be solved with some new legislation. American education is a crisis in and of itself.