A ZeroHedge article today, describing the record rise of the student loan debt bubble - the only credit market still growing, praying on the young and uneducated to deepen and expand our debt enslavement - linked the following video:
Her delivery, to a degree, betrays the truth and power of the speech. I recommend visiting her blog and reading the complete text.
I found myself experiencing a myriad of emotions as watched and read and re-read this speech - elation, awe, inspiration - but more than anything else, I felt shame.
By the time I reached Junior High I had become completely disillusioned with my education. I had arrived at many of the same conclusions that Erica did, though at that time certainly not as eloquently so. I had recently been introduced to the restaurant business, garnering a job as a dishwasher at the restaurant where my father worked. I was having more fun, experiencing more of the real world, and by extension learning more working in the dish pit than I had at school since I could remember. I had already decided that I would simply go through the motions of finishing school while pursuing my new passion of learning to be a chef.
It was during my 7th grade year that I was fortunate enough to be put before Carolyn Simons, my “Donna Bryan,” for English. I am still to this day thankful that she not only recognized that I was phoning it in, but was also able to genuinely inspire me to stop doing so.
I say this because my resignation was not evident in my work or my report card. Mine was a small and mostly rural community (at the time) and as we all know the system is tailored to teach the students we have, not to produce the graduates we want. As such I easily completed the assignments given me, regurgitated the desired answers in the designated bubbles before me, and continued to receive high grades and honors despite the fact that I had long ceased going to school in any way that mattered.
But anyone who has ever been subjected to the tutalidge of Carolyn Simons knows what I quickly learned - an attitude such as that simply does not fly in her classroom. I will not delve into the multitude of ways that she opened my eyes as it would take a volume to do so, but I will say that she taught me the most important lesson that anyone can ever learn: Education is not a passive activity. Real, visceral, meaningful education can never be forced upon an unwilling student. It comes only from determined interest, inquisition, and examination. Teachers, in whatever form they may come, can only plant seeds. We must endeavor ourselves to grow them.
The best spent years of my entire formal education were the three at Bay Middle School in her class and in the classes of many other teachers like her. At that school the students were given the autonomy and latitude, the flexibility and inspiration to think outside of the box and to discover knowledge of our own accord, rather than to have it force fed to us as has become our institutionalized custom.
After Junior High I followed most of my classmates to a small, brand new public high school called South Walton. The programs were limited, the options small, the traditions non-existent, but the system for churning out volumes of obedient, unquestioning, line-toting, direction following youth was well in place. Seeing that the educational rubric I had had grown to love and embrace had been replaced by the one I had long since grown to loathe and detest, I once again retreated from school. Having become a decent line cook, and having snuck my way in to a kitchen run by an incredible chef, I spent most of my junior and senior year in the kitchen as opposed to the classroom.
I finished school not as the Valedictorian of my class, but as the 2nd runner up - a technical foul I received for logging over one hundred absences in a particular (and wholly useless) class during my senior year, and though I always submitted the assignments on time and scored well on the exams, the absences alone were enough to cause the blemish in my transcript knocking me out of the top spot. Of course, it was not the only class I frequently skipped. Thankfully, however, it was the only one taught by an instructor that could not plainly see that I did not need to be there.
My parents were furious and several of my teachers dismayed by the fact that after a lifetime of being at the top of my class I failed to graduate in that position. I was mostly apathetic. As was described in Erica’s speech, I was just happy to be getting the hell out of there - off to college where the system would be different, where teachers and students alike would be overwhelmed by a desire for a genuine education. (Can someone please invent a sarcasm font?)
Still and all, I was asked to give a speech. It was a request that I fervently refused. In fact, had it not been for a collective familial tongue-lashing, myself and my two best friends (also high placed finalists in our scholastic reality show) would have skipped graduation entirely.
Of course I found much the same in college that I had found in school before - brilliant minds and incredible tutors frustrated by a system designed to stifle creativity, discourage individualism, prohibit radical thinking, and produce increasingly efficient and obedient workers to feed our increasingly inefficient and irrational consumer driven society. Our colleges, once great venues of open debate and creative education have become incubators for the social lobotomy of entertainment-driven cultural values and a method by which we are intentionally streamlined into narrower areas of specialization with little to no emphasis on seeing, investigating, and understanding the whole puzzle, favoring instead a total focus on just our tiny piece.
It wasn’t until after college that I realized the problem lies not only in how we’re taught, but also in what we’re taught. I was perhaps most disturbed to learn that facts that I’ve accepted since I was old enough to read are in truth complete fabrications that have been inextricably burned into the educational curriculum, repeated ad nauseum by countless text books of every grade level, and used as foundational argument by academics, pundits, and public figures, all of which are easily exposed as the lies they are upon any critical investigation. Unfortunately when we are told something enough, told it from an early age, and told it by people we trust, it becomes almost impossible to consider that it might be false. It is the definition of indoctrination. And given the light in which such comparatively radical deviations in empirical thought are often cast, it is all too easy to leave those things unpublished, those possibilities unexplored, those words unspoken. It has become far easier to cling to knowns at our detriment than to explore unknowns for our empowerment.
“Ignorance is bliss.”
“Why stress about what you can’t change?”
“Only fight the fights you can win.”
These have become the mantras of our day. But the truth is that ignorance inevitably leads to slavery while knowledge leads to empowerment, change has never come from a person or group that was not stressed, and we MUST fight the fights that need fighting, especially now in what is perhaps human civilization’s most dire hour.
When I was asked to address my class, my teachers and my community I should have accepted that opportunity. I should have eagerly voiced my concerns rather than resigning myself to the belief that I could have no effect, that there was no difference I could make. I should have given that speech, or at least one very similar to it.
This is the source of my shame, for I forgot the lesson Mrs. Simons so endeavored to teach me. We are all, and have always been, both students and teachers. It is a sacred duty instilled upon us by simple virtue of our birth. It is our job as citizens of the world to constantly learn and grow, and to teach others. We must continue to question that which we are told, to re-examine that which we believe we know, to challenge others to do the same, and to accept those challenges from others. We cannot allow ourselves, individually or as a society, to become complacent and stagnant. We cannot cease to move forward, to seek innovation in thought, evolution in consciousness. There is no graduation.
This is a lesson I vow to never again forget or attempt to subdue. I am elated, awestruck, and inspired to see others - teenagers no less - who realize and embrace this conclusion, and it is my greatest hope that more of us continue to do the same.