The news item on the radio in early Spring was buried as always under a gauntlet of ulcers. The dreaded “No Child Left Behind” policy of the Bush Presidency would be struck down. Like so many of the Obama Administration’s deeds this was a mixed bag–usually the devil being in the details. No Child Left Behind is being discontinued in name only. It seems that this new policy will continue the work of destroying teacher’s unions and school boards nationally, school boards being the way citizens have access to the way schools are operated. But also part of the plan is for mass closure of schools that are deemed “underperforming.” The public schools then will be converted into charter schools. The emphasis of class time placed on students processing information and testing. The young people under pressure will someday resemble the hang-ups given to them. Like most people, I have turned away from the depressing details of today’s news stories, as I mostly turned away from the state of schools today. I particularly associate it with the dread of my own school years that I would wish to leave behind me.
As protests over education cuts heated up locally and I attended planning meetings to help in the resistance, I dreamed for a moment of making a one sheet flier to hand out. A veritable Berkeley Rant–one I used to see across public walls and telephone poles throughout my youth. In my one moment of fame I would hand out my collected thoughts to the crowd, some of those disgruntled UC Berkeley students likely one day to become part of the managerial class of our society and therefore more influential in policy making than little old me. My rant would be rather utopian–assuming that we can make it thru this psychic hump created from the unnatural gasses of the economic bubbles that seem to span decades. Admittedly, some of my ideas would be informed by the anarchic thought of 60′s counter culture; present day schools using the business model, or the assembly line production model of instruction are damaging to the budding person. The idea is added to in Peter Watkins’s movie La Commune. In it there is a scene where a woman decries the over stimulation that happens in schools. She urgently implores the audience in a tone that seems to run the movie’s 3 hour running time, “What we need to teach children is how to read, how to write, and how to count. All the rest of the things schools do to children are harmful.”
My own two cents look more at what we are doing right. I agree with the theory of shaping the curriculum to the needs of the student, which almost necessitates a smaller class size. But more precisely, we need to change the quality of the little Americans who are being shaped. The counter culture loves to speculate that the system tends to breed a nation of conformists, as if the punks are striking up a chorus with Malvina Reynolds in a replay of “Little Boxes.” But I feel what is really being rendered in schools is a vicious attitude of competitiveness, with a companion effect of dependence to the system–which I will get to later.
The recent fight to stop UC Berkeley from cutting down native Oak trees to put up a dubious (and undoubtfuly ugly) sports training building signaled to me the preference the mother culture in America gives to competitive frames of life. The way that testing is used as a measure of achievement supports this. The better you do the better your school does. Team spirit. Or rather your social group needs to be better than your neighbors’. This practice helps to rationalize the invasion of other countries for such reasoning as “protecting our freedom”.
For me what is recyclable about American public schools is the mixture of peers spending time together experiencing events and problem solving together. There is a remarkable opportunity there with the mixing of little people across class lines, gender, ethnicity–people who haven’t fully formed attitudes and practices of bigotry. With this in mind I would structure class time to have a significant foundation in time to Share and Tell. Have this time to replace the practice of devouring information for the sake of regurgitation in the form of testing. Teach active listening and breed respect in people’s differences. Have students bring in aspects of their home life to engage their classmates–stories of their ancestors, a song that is sung in the house, a dish of food they subsist on. Then once a week, students from a nearby school would visit the school and tell of the customs they practice a few miles away. Then once a month kids from the school visits a far away region to share their customs.
MY OWN SCHOOL DAYS
This Friday’s quiz you have 10 minutes to complete the questions. Those of you who take longer will have to make it up during your lunch hour. Remember no talking or looking at your phone. Bathroom breaks will not be permitted.
A) If Mark Yudoff, whose salary is more than President Obama’s, is speeding in his car 12 miles over the legal limit from his office in Oakland to a lunch party in Sacramento but first he has to stop off at his other office to fire 13 janitors, 21 teachers, raise tuition in 7 schools–discontinue 14 classes, and help usher in a dozen new construction projects….when will he hit the wall?
Most people talk of the nightmares they have of school and you hear the standard of being naked amongst classmates. But isn’t this a hangover of the realities of the prudish 1950′s. What of the waking nightmares that are being practiced daily today? My own conversion to disliking school occurred in Jr. High school. I know several other people who really started to develop “problems” with their education at this time. Before Jr. High I used to enjoy the material and atmosphere of the classroom. A clear example of the institutional bummer was in my 7th grade math class. A crowded classroom trying to tackle a complex subject was not helped by the authoritarian teacher. Such emphasis placed on being seated by the ringing of the bell, having pencil in hand with book out mirrors the emphasis to performing high in tests and doing homework. The Filipina teacher who was always angry probably had a justified need to be so heavy handed–a large class of angsty kids being forced to contemplate an abstraction does not go so smoothly.
This was the Reagan 80′s, and even as an adolescent I could sense that the people in control were intentionally fouling the future up. But it was becoming evident that I was being weaned to take on heavy loads of “work” irregardless of its meaning for me, and to seek reward in abstract letter grades and numbers. Because of this time I went from being spiritually fed by learning to being attracted to dropouts. The heavy metal kids or comic book collectors seemed to use imagination and took a self-defined path that appealed to me more than the honor role robots or the sports heroes. My own nightmares of school would resemble the panic of trying to get my locker open before the second bell screams for all to be seated and ready to work.
I wish people would wake up sweating thinking that the children are being exposed to cancerous toxins from being located near freeways and areas with heavy traffic. That reading has become an aversion to most who go through school because they are forced fed antiquated authors with no relevance to their world today. That tiny growing bodies are being denied rest and then reprimanded for not being able to sit still, stay awake and be quiet. That the solutions for their squirming has been to put children on drugs and create rigid rules that help to exclude those who can’t conform. That the failure to put our resources into civil society is directly related to the emphasis placed in developing war, and war industries. I’m sweating now over the prospects of this kind of practice.
Popular slogans one sees in the Left’s commentary of reality is, “Capitalism is the Crisis.” Well I contend this may only be slightly agreeable to common people especially, say a single parent of a teenager. For them the crisis is around their child and mitigating the demands of reality they encounter.
As an adult, many people I know either became parents and/or teachers. Suddenly I had to identify with the people who I once thought of as implementing oppressive policies. To boot, I also started to associate groups of rowdy youth as disruptive and violent. If anything, they gave me reason to accept the long hours that kids are kept locked up in schools. But I know this isn’t the solution. I know quite a few parents who have home schooled their kids well aware of what’s in store for them in the public schools. Those parents also know that what’s missing from home schooling, which is the one thing I purpose salvaging–the schools as a space of socialization.
The other day, I hung with a mother and daughter who did home schooling and asked them if they thought they gained anything avoiding high school. They clued me in that their relationship had changed since her daughter was no longer being shipped off to what is essentially day care for most parents. Normal parent/child relationships contend with an institutional alienation robbing them of their best years together. The daughter also related how important life skills are not taught in schools. Like learning to build our own homes and fix them, or growing our own food. These ideas made me think we also need skills to problem solve and have tools to express our emotions throughout the various challenges of our lives. When she was telling me this I realized we are intentionally NOT taught these skills. Not because they are useless skills in the modern world–but not knowing them makes people helpless through their whole life. Therefore we will have to go through corporations and the state to mitigate our needs in society.
There are many things to be said on how people have adapted to accept an absurd reality. We know we are on the brink of a new reality–a new world unlike the one we’ve been living in. Whether it’s the world of Rightwing think tanks, leftist collectives, or what not will need your input. Just remember the Right has a way of inserting ideas in your head and then you think you had them. An idea I had when experiencing children in the subculture is that the structures and ideas I showed them was taken as matter of fact. I helped create the foundation for reality. Just as I grew up with pot growing in the backyard and thinking the White House was full of criminals, despite the rules of the outside world. I have learned that what we do and say around the youth will help to usher in those practices when they fully take the world. But in the mean time the thing kids gotta do is have a good time–if not with our help then without our interference. If we provide a reality structured on joy and peace then they will seek to create those aspects when they are the adults. We are losing these basic principles by people who advertise “Never Ending War”, then make sure that is what goes down in places like schools. To free us from this path has to be a collective effort.
What 20th century meeting of leftists occurred without an opening or closing song? Since I referred to Malvina Reynolds already let us sing one of her compositions as we go out. Not “Little Boxes”–how tacky and American(!) to only sing the most popular tune. Yet this is the land of tinsel and tin men. I’m sure there is some who would tolerate her song “The Money Crop”, if it were only sung by a dude in aggressive punk type pounding ripping agony. But for now we’ll part with the way she recorded it. The singing wizened and old, therefore delicate — as it conveys the brave words telling truth to power. In this case let us dedicate it to the bureaucrats who wish to persuade us in compromising what we have in things like the environment, or what we will someday will give to the world–that being our children, in order to feed the…
THE MONEY CROP
Well money has its own way,
And money has to grow,
It grows on human blood and bone
As any child would know.
It’s iron stuff and paper stuff
With no life of its own,
And so it gets its growing sap
From human blood and bone.
Many a child goes hungering
Because the wage is low,
And men die on the battlefield
To make the money grow.
And those that take the money crop
Are avid without end,
They plant it in the tenements
To make it grow again.
The little that they leave for us
It cannot be a seed,
We spend it on the shoddy clothes
And every daily need,
We spend it in a minute,
In an hour it is gone,
To find its way to grow again
On human blood and bone,
Blood and bone.
Words and Music by Malvina Reynolds.
Copyright 1966, Schroder Music Co.
You’re pretty powerful when you’re 16. Even if the world doesn’t recognize this.