Taught In Vain Essay, Research Paper
Justify the Knowledge or It Will be Taught in Vain
If you were to ask a teenager today if he or she would rather study or watch television, what do you think the answer would be? From what I have seen in myself when I was a teenager and in almost everyone that I meet, nobody would rather study. Today’s fast food culture has sucked the beauty out of individual thought and the acquirement of knowledge. Schools give an insufficient amount of knowledge on a variety of different topics and sub-topics without any encouragement of critical thought and analysis on the knowledge. Indeed, if schools required children to do so as a part of their education then the politicians, people of elite status, and teachers would be shown that the way they have been doing things, and they way they are doing things, is wrong. Some people who do actually think about things and disagree are rare not only because it’s hard to find interest in something public education has made arbitrary but because doing so results in being a social outcast. Some still disagree anyway. It is not allowed in the classrooms so they drop out of schools, die their hair black, get body piercings, become pessimists, and become stereotyped as trash to express their rebellion against being trained to think in a way that does nothing but confuse thought itself. The simple fact is that if young people were encouraged to change our current situation instead of being cast out and beaten down, these same tattooed drug addict losers would be Nobel Prize winners. Its not these rebels that are causing environmental problems, sucking up all the available resources at the expense of people living in poverty, and sending American jobs across the Mexican border for the sake of a greasy buck. It is not the individualist envisionary artists we call elements of a demoralized young generation that are over taxing the people to build machinery for wars that, most of time, are none of our damn business. It is not the gun carrying gangsters that are engaging in the politics of deception and manipulation to lie to the majority of “honest” people in this country and take their money to fulfill their bloodthirsty wallets at the cost of peoples lives. These proprietary social outcasts are defense mechanisms that result from the disgusting maginalization of the current system. Where does it all begin? In the public schools are the roots of the problem. What helps it? The media with its advertisement propaganda waters those roots. There are many problems in our society that spring from one thing: the miseducation of our children. There are many problems in the education of our children that spring from one thing: students are being taught what to think instead of how to think. The core of our education of children should not be the amount of material covered but the encouragement of thinking about the material which should be presented with a high degree of honesty with emphasis on awareness and responsibility.
On many occasions in public school I can remember inquiring on the importance of material only to be laughed at by the class. In eleventh grade English, designed for vocational students, we read “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. We read during class and each Friday had tests on the material without any discussion of our purpose for learning it. One day when I questioned why we needed to learn it and the class laughed at me. The teacher told me that it was just part of the curriculum required by the state. I can remember that adding to the anger and frustration of my already rebellious attitude. The rebellion that I felt at the time was against everything that I was being taught. I at the time, like most people, had grown repulsed by learning since the knowledge had been distributed in a way that made it seem like it was a waste of my time. There were seven class periods a day. Each class was less than an hour long and there was little time to go over the things of real importance. When things of real importance were “taught,” I had six other classes crowding in trying to choke any desire that might have been there to investigate the matters further. Consequently, books and knowledge brought to mind nothing but the meaningless boredom of the manner in which they were presented in school. Whether in school or out, reading books sucked. When that last bell rang it always sparked the conditioned thought of myself hanging out with friends, watching television, listening to music, smoking pot, and doing anything but being productive. Being productive seemed like something that old people do because they need to survive, not because it is something that they loved to do, and its perquisite implied hours of monotonous dedication to memorizing conceptual relics from a former epoch that have no relevant applicability to my modern life. Watching television consumed most of my out of school time since that was mostly what people in my surroundings talked about. Why was it important? It provided for my parents a relief from doing work that they do not enjoy all day. It provided for me and my fellow students an automatic identity and purpose since school had degraded the idea of constructing one from history, science, literature, and philosophy to meaningless syllables that invoked sleep.
If a public school student were to actually pay attention in school and manage to get an A, lets say, in history class, that person might be able to tell you that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. That person might be able to tell you that the Declaration of Independence says we are all created equal, but if you told him the truth that Jefferson had slaves and that he cheated on his wife with a slave for the better part of twenty years, she would either think you are dumb, laugh at you, or both. When I was riding the bus to school in the twelfth grade, I saw that a girl with a calculus textbook. I tried to talk to her about it and told her that Kempler, one of the fathers of calculus, developed the subject for the study of astronomical bodies. She was an honors student, smart enough to be in calculus, but she did not believe that what I was saying was true. “Calculus has nothing to do with astronomy!” she said. All I could think was how boring this subject was because its history and meaning had been negated. It made me angry that the teacher never described exactly what happened in history or how much depth and beauty is in mathematics just because “it’s not a part of the curriculum.”
Most people think of mathematics and reading books as boring. This is a direct result of people being showed things like geometrical shapes, the battle of Gettysburg, and the periodic table of elements without indicating their significance at the time that these things were discovered or occurred, or their significance in modern day life. When most people think of school they see one subject, instead of a vast array of topics and interests, and they think of that subject as dreadful, boring, and a waste of time. For instance, Mike Rose wrote about the public education experience in his book “I Just Wanna Be Average”:
The particulars will vary, but in essence this is what a number of students go through, especially those in the so-called remedial classes. They open their textbooks and see once again the familiar and impenetrable formulas and diagrams and terms that have stumped them for years. There is no excitement here. No excitement. Regardless of what the teacher says, this is not a new challenge. There is, rather embarrassment and frustration and, not suprisingly, some anger in being reminded once again of long-standing inadequacies. No wonder so many students finally attribute their difficulties to something inborn, organic: “That part of my brain just doesn’t work.” Given the troubling histories many of these students have, it’s miraculous that any of them can lift the shroud of hopelessness sufficiently to make deliverance from these classes possible. (171)
This situation is not just applicable to this particular case, but is a good generalization of the majority of people who experience public schools first hand.
Put simply, the government designs a curriculum. In that curriculum it is set up for students to cover a certain amount of material; however, I cannot remember one class in public school where we finished a text book. It appears like the government sets unreachable curricular goals because there is no desire for them to invoke critical thought in the minds of the students. They know that if a student were taught to think about too much, the things that are wrong in our government, socioculture, and environmental ecology would be criticized. That would mean a major change in the way that we are doing things, and all those who are taking advantage of the system for their own greed would be brought to light. Many people would lose their status, power, control, and luxuries. So, while people are trained, in a sense, to see education and knowledge acquirement as monotonous and boring, they are being prevented from being able to do anything about the wrongs in our world. To aid in this suppression, “the powers that be” also use television to inform, and misinform, the masses of the problems and solutions. As a result, people are being spoon-fed what to think without having to think, because thinking is something that is not of primary importance whatsoever, for the reasons above. The few people who do are such a small amount that it is hard to convince the masses who are being “zombified” that that is in fact what is happening to them.
There are a few wonderful exceptions. Some public school teachers deviate from the curriculum because their passion over-rides their fear of not accomplishing their job requirements. For instance, Jonathan Kozol wrote about a teacher in the city of Chicago in his essay “Corla Hawkins”. She did her best to teach her kids how to think about what they learned, how to teach each other what they learned, and how what they learned applies to their life. The thirty children in her fifth and sixth grade class were seated in groups of six or five called “departments”. Each department was composed of six desks pushed together to created a table. One of the groups did math, another something they describe as “mathematics art”–painting composites of geometric shapes–and the other is studying “careers,” which on this particular morning in the essay were writing about successful business leaders who began their lives in poverty. Then, they all switched groups while one stayed behind to teach the rest the ropes of that department. This teacher, Mrs. Hawkins, was showing them how to communicate intrapersonally and interpersonally information that would be of use to them. The essay made it clear she cared more about the way her children thought and less what her children thought. “This is the point of it,” she says. “I am teaching them three things. Number one: self-motivation. Number two: self-esteem. Number three: you help your sister and brother. I tell them they’re responsible for one another. I give no grades in the first marking period because I do not want them to be too competitive. Second marking period, I team them two-and-two. You get the same grade as your partner. Fourth marking period, I tell them ‘Every fish swims on its own.’ But I wait a while for that. The most important thing for me is that they teach each other…” (178) This is an awesome example of teaching the kids how to think. Sadly, though, these kids are most likely being suppressed outside of school. Although education is something they probably look forward to every day, the society around them does not place much importance on education at all.
In a textbook, “Invitation to Psychology”, I read the work of psychological researchers Harold Sevenson, Chuanshen Chen, and Shin-Ying Lee. They compared children from 20 schools in Chicago and 11 schools in Beijing. The study, ironically, was on fifth graders, as in the class stated above and eleventh graders who were compared ten years earlier. Their results can show us much on the cultivation of intellect. On computations and word problems, the lowest scoring Beijing schools did better than the highest scoring Chicago schools! Only 4 percent of the Chinese children had scores as low as the average American child. Interestingly, the Chinese had worse facilities and larger classes! The Chinese parents were also poorer and less educated than the American parents! In this case, the government propagates to its society the importance of education because it benefits them. Since it is a Communist society, people who are more productive and intelligent benefit the high ranking political parties. Because of this, Chinese students are expected to devote themselves to their studies, but American students are expected to be “well-rounded”–to have after school jobs (74 percent of them did, compared to only 21 percent of the Chinese), to have dates and an active social life (85 percent to 37 percent), and to have time for sports and other activities. Contrary to the stereotype of the stressed and overworked Asian student, it is American students who are most likely to report that school is a source of stress and academic anxiety. Asians actually had the lowest incidents of stress, depression, insomnia, aggression, and physical symptoms. American students do not value education as much as Asian students do. They are also more complacent about mediocre work. When asked what they would wish for if a wizard could give them anything they wanted, more than sixty percent of the Chinese fifth-graders named something that related to their education. Can you guess what the American children wanted? A majority said money or possessions. (216) It is not an absurd notion to think that the US government and the economical superpowers of this country propagate materialism, simply because it fills their pockets continuously.
The solution to many of our world’s social and economic problems would surface rather quickly if we changed our curriculum to promote critical individual thought. Right now the current system may not be intended to fill the pockets of the wealthy and the polititions, but that is sure what it does. Rather than keep filling their pockets with money, lets fill our global, national, and communal problems with solutions. The best way to do this, clearly, is to stop over feeding our children’s minds with the water of knowledge and to start planting there more seeds of thought. A very prolific man, Neale Donald Walsch, makes a great suggestion of how to do this in “Conversations with God”:
I am talking about focusing your children’s attention as much on understanding the core concepts and the theoretical structures around which their value system may be constructed as you now do on dates and facts and statistics.
In your society you have created a system in which little Johnnie has learned how to read before getting out of pre-school, but still hasn’t learned how to stop biting his brother. And Susie has perfected her multiplication tables, using flash cards and rote memory, in ever earlier and earlier grades, but has not learned that there is nothing shameful or embarrassing about her body.
Right now your schools exist primarily to provide answers. It would be far more beneficial if their primary function was to ask questions. What does it mean to be honest, or responsible, or “fair”? What are the implications? For that matter, what does it mean that 2+2=4? What are the implications? A highly evolved society would encourage all children to discover and create those answers for themselves.
Present Data should not be the basis of Present Truth. Data from a prior time or experience should always and only be the basis for new questions. Always the treasure should be in the question, not in the answer.
And always the questions are the same. With regard to this past data which we have shown you, do you agree, or do you disagree? What do you think? Always, this is the key question. Always this is the focus. What do you think? What do you think? (127-128)
Through out life I have been fortunate to know very intelligent, charismatic, “thoughtful” people. The best of them all combine to form the ideal role model. The actualization of their thoughts, each with a distinctive power, wonder, grace, is nothing less than an amazing vision of beauty that cannot be described on paper, only felt in observing. The public school system, if anything, has attacked my comprehension of and capability of contributing to this beauty. The struggle that I call my past could have been a plethora of aesthetics if I had been shown the ways of the thinker instead of the ways of a zombie. Anyone who has felt a personal feeling of deep contemplation would agree that its goodness could not be replaced or taken away by anything external or material. Those people are the ones who evolve the current system. Instead of these people loving themselves through their students, they will love their students through wisdom.