Monday, October 10, 2016

School is Like a Drug

I made this claim to my youngest daughter a few years ago because I had grown concerned about the effects of government indoctrination.  According to a few different schoolteachers (Brett Veinotte, John Taylor Gatto, and Alexander Inglis), school has six main functions, which, to be blunt, are 1) Remove judgement and opinion, 2) Fashion students to be obedient, 3) Sort students into normalized groups, 4) Create a ruling class, 5) Cut off students who don't fit the desired mold, and 6) Control the students.  I can see these things happening to all students who speak openly enough about their school experience, though they may not be able to see it themselves.

It's possible that I've taken the words of these three teachers too seriously and allowed their views to pollute my thinking, but all my efforts to verify that as the case have failed abysmally.  I conclude that they are correct, and that school tends to create unthinking "yes men."  It also, at least in the case of my own children, attracts many of its victims to itself.

Seeing the damage being done and the victims maintaining a desire for its source, I gave a few minutes of thought to finding a good analogy, and heroin is what I came up with.  Something makes school feel good enough, and the damage it does is subtle enough to prevent some of its victims from rejecting it.  It is my hope and, indeed, my expectation that, just as I did, my children will also eventually think their own way out of the habits that make most people into unthinking yes men.  I can't help but feel that my own relationships with them provide them ample opportunities to judge, have opinions, obey their consciences rather than anyone else, remain the beautiful distinct creatures my wife and I created, disavow power over others as I have, embrace the marginalized, and defy those who attempt to control them.

There are some other elements of drug use which have analogs to school too.  My friend Roslyn Ross shared the insight that what makes something a drug in the psychological sense is that it allows us to "numb out."  She writes that we also use substances as spices (to enhance whatever we're enjoying) and as medicine (to help change what needs to change). 

School demands that we do homework, listen, sit still, raise our hands to pee, and other things which cause a lot of psychological pain, but it numbs us to that pain also.  Gold stars, letters near the beginning of the alphabet, aka "high marks", and certificates of achievement help to salve the damage to our intrinsic motivation.

School forces us to associate with a lot of people our own age with whom we wouldn't normally interact.  It also provides group projects, activities, and sometimes actual discussions in which we get to interact with those whom we do enjoy.  We are wired to remember and appreciate the good things in life, and the togetherness of similarly aged children provides episodes both good and bad.  School magnifies the experience of being a child, and in that sense, it provides an enhancement.

Importantly, school teaches that government is good, which is an altered perception. As we age, our trust in government falls.  Teenage rebellion is a kind of rejection of authority that is natural in cultures that value and teach authority - the coercive kind, not the expertise kind.  It is also only through school that the Rite of Passage goes backwards, pushing students away from their own consciences and back toward authorities as the guides for their lives.  This is the necessary change from the point of view of (coercive) authority, obviously.

I thank Anne Stirling Hastings for motivating me to write this post. I recommend her and her work to anyone with an appreciation and love for humankind.

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