Monday, June 27, 2005

A Post of My Side of a Correspondence

Note: I commented on education on a forum. Since my comment was a little polemical, someone asked if I had a personal grudge or investment against high school or the education system writ large. What follows is my response.

Not at all. My high school was fairly easy. I got good grades, was in extracurriculars like debate and activism, was tracked into all the honors classes, and got into a good college. Superficially, I was an exemplary honors student.

But I had dealt with social alienation at school (at a very young age: my high school years were qualitatively different). Other things, like having fun, remaining true to my ethics, helping people, and politics were more important than getting an A in some ridiculous class.
I also could understand that high school had all sorts of ridiculous cliques (again, cliques that almost all accepted me because I was smart enough to warrant sucking up to, funny enough to be interesting, and placid/chill enough to not piss anyone off) and that those made people think high school was of paramount importance.

Further, I never really put much effort into high school, getting Bs instead of As sometimes because of it. My teachers knew and I knew that I could teach the class, and often did. Nothing (besides debate, of course) academically interested me. I've always had a lazy side, and that combined with the ability to be lazy and get away with it is a rather deadly combination, unfortunately.

And my friends and people I knew, even in honors classes, felt alienated by the school system. In my spiritual endeavors, I learned that one must broaden one's compassion and see the true sources of the Other's anxiety in the hope of contributing positively. In my political endeavors, I learned that oftentimes the institutions under which we live oppress and demean the human spirit and some do not have the will to fight back; or, alternately, do and are punished for it, and then develop mechanisms to avoid the hurt. Well, I may be getting bad grades, but if I don't think that makes me dumb and if I don't care about what you think makes a person intelligent or get good grades, then you can't hurt me, so fuck off (Tim Wise covers this as a reason why black kids may especially have such hard times learning good study habits).

I find it interesting: So many times (Tim Wise also talks about this, as does Chomsky), people assume that someone who opposes a system must have a grudge against it, rather than being a beneficiary. In fact, I am a white male college student in America coming from upper middle class parents. In almost every respect, I am the paragon of or the beneficiary of privilege. I reject it not because it harms me (though yes it does in the end harm me, as do all ill-gotten gains), but because I have a moral objection to it.

As an ending comment: I forgot to mention that I could recognize that my privilege and my success was largely due to me being a "good kid". In my case, it wasn't being a good kid because of any conformist pressures: the fact that I helped found an anarchist club and faced threats of violence more than once indicates this. Rather, it was that I didn't feel the need to rebel; I understood that the educators I was working with were in a hard position too, and that the administrators were human as well. This may sound strange coming from an avowed revolutionary, but I think it is consistent with my notion of human behavior. I would always try to bring in my political notions to discussion, but not in a way that was destructive. Institutions are complex, and even concerned revolutionaries should not smash them without a good idea of what to preserve and what to eliminate.

Anyways, I could recognize that kids who were my parallel in intelligence or had worthwhile skills felt very disenfranchised. Since I didn't want to denigrate their valid concerns but wanted to help them, I began to think of ways that schools could be more inclusive. And in my meditations, I recognized that it was due to my ability to control myself, something that others may not have, and simply accept authority when I felt I needed to, that let me "succeed" where others failed. I hope that I didn't compromise my integrity by doing so. These are difficult questions that must be approached delicately.


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