Stumped, Part Three: Indoctrination

Here’s some uplifting news just in time for all you hard-working students to wrap up your finals for the year, a little something to reassure you that you’re on the right track: the entire education system is broken. Not just a few kinks here and there that need smoothing out. I mean the whole thing, from the bottom up, from start to finish. The whole system we all rely on to give us functional knowledge and a place in the world to use it is inherently and intrinsically corrupt. Each and every one of us who has participated in it is complicit in that corruption.

The process of indoctrination is slow and insidious. You get a little older and you notice that the fun and games are becoming fewer and farther between, and in their place are increasingly more rules, more work, more warnings. You’re offered no explanation and no way out. The walls are closing in.

Some people call it growing up. Some call it innocence lost. It’s when we begin to get the hint that we mean nothing as individuals, that we’re all just gears in someone else’s machine. Your needs, desires, feelings, ideas, ideals, they don’t matter anymore, no matter how legitimate they are. Validity and merit are not part of the agenda. I remember turning in papers in high school and getting them returned to me with mixed messages, along the lines of “The writing is very good, and you show much insight, but since you didn’t follow the rubric to a T, I have to give you a D.” When I asked what the point of the rubric was if it didn’t support intellectual substance, they were as clueless as me. That was the gist of my entire school experience.

The only message I ever got that wasn’t hopelessly convoluted was this: no matter how arbitrary and illogical, no matter how cruel these rules are, failure to follow them dooms you to a life of marginalization and poverty. You’re stuck.

“All of this freedom, and I have no choice”


This is how they rope you into your place on the assembly line. It’s a punishment-versus-reward formula no more sophisticated than the kind you train a dog with. You learn not from inquiring and reasoning but from threats, intimidation and humiliation. You learn to beg, sit, lie down and roll over because your only other option is getting left out in the cold.

During my stint at community college, I took a speech and communication class. For the persuasive speech assignment, I spoke about this very topic. As I expected, my classmates didn’t need any persuading. I started by asking for a show of hands: “How many of you are here to learn?” Only a few hands went up. After I ranted to them about how education is nothing but systematized psychological abuse, many of them came rushing up to me to tell me how much they loved the speech and to commiserate. They felt the same way I did.

As a practical joke, I submitted my speech to the school’s lit mag. I guess the editors don’t have a good sense of humor, because they immediately e-mailed me to inform me that everyone on the mag’s staff loved my piece and unanimously decided to publish it.

We all felt the same way, yet there we all were voluntarily attending college. Case In Point..