Posts Tagged ‘Procrustes’

On my daily stroll through the LRC I found another great article by Fred Reed. Keeping it real is what Fred does best. Enjoy!

A Taste of Realism


May 1, 2012

I wonder what purpose the public schools serve, other than to warehouse children while their parents work or watch television. They certainly don’t teach much, as survey after survey shows. Is there any particular reason for having them? Apart from their baby-sitting function, I mean.

Schooling, sez me, should be adapted to the needs and capacities of those being schooled. For unintelligent children, the study of anything beyond minimal reading is a waste of time, since they will learn little or nothing more. For the intelligent, a public schooling is equivalent to tying an anchor to a student swimmer. The schools are an impediment to learning, a torture of the bright, and a form of negligent homicide against a country that needs trained minds in a competitive world.

Let us start with the truly stupid. Millions of children graduate—“graduate”—from high school—“high school”—unable to read. Why inflict twelve years of misery on them? It is not reasonable to blame them for being witless, but neither does it make sense to pretend that they are not. For them school is custodial, nothing more. Since there is little they can do in a technological society, they will remain in custody all their lives. This happens, and must happen, however we disguise it.

For those of reasonably average acuity, it little profits to go beyond learning to read, which they can do quite well, and to use a calculator. Upon their leaving high school, question them and you find that they know almost nothing. They could learn more, average not being stupid, but modest intelligence implies no interest in study. This is true only of academic subjects such as history, literature, and physics. They will study things that seem practical to them. Far better to teach the modestly acute such things as will allow them to earn a living, be they typing, carpentry, or diesel repair. Society depends on such people. But why inflict upon them the geography of Southeast Asia, the plays of Shakespeare, or the history of the nineteenth century? Demonstrably they remember none of it.

Some who favor the public schools assert that an informed public is necessary to a functioning democracy. True, and beyond doubt. But we do not have an informed public, never have had one, and never will. Nor, really, do we have a functioning democracy.

Any survey will reveal that most people have no grasp of geography, history, law, government, finance, international relations, or politics. And most people have neither the intelligence nor the interest to learn these things. If schools were not the disasters they are, they still couldn’t produce a public able to govern a nation.

But it is for the intelligent that the public schools—“schools”—are most baneful. It is hideous for the bright, especially bright boys, to sit year after year in an inescapable miasma of appalling dronedom while some low-voltage mental drab wanders on about banalities that would depress a garden slug. The public schools are worse than no schools for the quick. A sharp kid often arrives at school already reading. Very quickly he (or, most assuredly, she) reads four years ahead of grade. These children teach themselves. They read indiscriminately, without judgement—at first anyway—and pick up ideas, facts, and vocabulary. They also begin to think.

In school, bored to desperation, they invent subterfuges so as not to lapse into screaming insanity. In my day the tops of desks opened to reveal a space for storing crayons and such. The bright would keep the top open enough so that they could read their astronomy books while the teacher—“teacher”—talked about some family of cute beavers, and how Little Baby Beaver….

I ask you: How much did you learn in school, and how much have you learned on your own? Asking myself the same question, I come up with typing, and two years of algebra.

The bright should go to school, but it is well to distinguish between a school and a penitentiary. They need schools at their level, taught by teachers at their level. It is not hard to get intelligent children to learn things, and indeed today a whole system of day-care centers only partly succeeds in keeping them from doing it. They like learning things, if only you keep those wretched beavers out of the classroom. When I was in grade school in the early Fifties, bright kids read, shrew-like, four times their body weight in books every fifteen minutes—or close, anyway. In third grade or so, they had microscopes (Gilbert for hoi polloi, but mine was a fifteen-dollar upscale model from Edmund Scientific) and knew about rotifers and Canada balsam and well slides and planaria. These young, out of human decency, for the benefit of the country, should not be subjected to public education—“education.” Where do we think high-bypass turbofans come from? Are they invented by heart-warming morons?

To a remarkable extent, dumb-ass public schools are simply not necessary. I asked my (Mexican) wife Violeta how she learned to read. It was through a Head Start program, I learned, called “mi padre.” Her father, himself largely self-taught, sat her down with a book and said, see these little squiggles? They are called “letters,” and they make sounds, and you can put them together….. Vi contemplated the idea. Yes, it made sense. Actually, she decided, it was no end of fun, give me that book…Bingo.

The absorptive capacity of smart kids is large if you just stay out of their way. A bright boy of eleven can quickly master a collegiate text of physiology, for example. This is less astonishing than perhaps it sounds. The human body consists of comprehensible parts that do comprehensible things. If he is interested, which is the key, he will learn them, while apparently being unable to learn state capitals, which don’t interest him.

What is the point of pretending to teach the unteachable while, to all appearances, trying not to teach the easily teachable? The answer of course is that we have achieved communism, the rule of the proletariat, and the proletariat doesn’t want to strain itself, or to admit that there are things it can’t do.

In schooling, perhaps “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” isn’t a bad idea. If a child has a substantial IQ, expect him to use it for the good of society, and give him schools to let him do it. If a child needs a vocation so as to live, give him the training he needs. But don’t subject either to enstupidated, unbearably tedious, pointless, one-size-fits-nobody pseudo-schools to hide the inescapable fact that we are not all equal.

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well, A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Bem, Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle, Au Phuc Dup and Nowhere to Go: The Only Really True Book About Viet Nam, and A Grand Adventure: Wisdom’s Price-Along with Bits and Pieces about Mexico. Visit his blog.

Copyright © 2012 Fred Reed

Curiosity counts.  We’re all curious at birth.  Out of painful labor we emerge.  All we knew for nine months was a pink sack of fluid.  It was warm and cozy and comfortable.  Then we’re forced out with lots of adult words, sweat and bloody goop.  Our world changes.  Exploration begins.  Our senses throw the lever into of hyper-drive.  Things are forced into our mouths and poop ends up in our diaper.  Why is my birthday suit no longer enough?  And why is it pink?  Pink is the only color I’ve known for nine months now!

As the shock of this new environment wears off, inquiry begins.  Our nature takes over.  Information and experience grows.  Questions are asked.  Learning starts.

Fast forward a few years.  Our curiosity takes a hit from a re-enforced concrete wall.  School begins.  “No!  Put that down!  Get back in line!”  Your position in the group is established.  The teacher introduces himself as the expert.  He begins the Procrustean process of schooling.  Welcome to disenchantment.   Put your curiosity and wonder in the cubbyhole by the door.  Get use to it.  You’ve got 12 more years in this iron bed.  Too short or long to fit?  No worries.  You’ll be hammered or cut to fit and painted to match.

I witness the brutal process daily.  Pools of bloody limbs are hacked off and twitch on the tiled floors.  Young bodies screaming in pain as if they are strapped to medieval racks.  Eyes are empty, yet defiant.  They know the jig is up on real learning.  To stay in school, one learns to conform to the bed.  This prepares and breaks individualists to take his place in the collective.  It’s for the good of the group you’re told.

The boundary lines is drawn for your action and your mind.  What interest you is not our concern.  Those pesky inward questions you brought to school will cease with time – and force.  Those deep, penetrating thoughts will give way to rote memorization and superficial  facts that we think you should know.  Thinking for yourself has to stop.  There’s mediocrity waiting in these green institutional halls and we’ll be sure you achieve it.  Who says?  The State says so.  Step this way, as all the pilgrims before you, to be fitted for our iron bed called schooling.  On the upside, you’ll never have to worry about what you don’t know.  We know what you need to know.  I’ve got a parchment degree on my wall to prove it.

If you’ve made it this far without directing bad words and obscene gestures toward me in your screen, keep reading.  If not, stop reading now!  Find something else to occupy and stroke your “truth”.  If, however, you find some truth, or even a slight possibility of this being true about schooling today, read on.  Maybe you were one of the students who had the arrogance to think for yourself.  You got a labeled as a trouble maker or with a contrived disability like ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder).  After examining it’s symptoms, I’m stricken with this “disability” at times.  I medicate daily to overcome.

Here are the symptoms according to The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry :

“In children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), there is an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that seriously interferes with the youngster’s day to day functioning.  Symptoms of ODD may include:

  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Excessive arguing with adults
  • Often questioning rules
  • Active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests and rules
  • Deliberate attempts to annoy or upset people
  • Blaming others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
  • Often being touchy or easily annoyed by others
  • Frequent anger and resentment
  • Mean and hateful talking when upset
  • Spiteful attitude and revenge seeking

The symptoms are usually seen in multiple settings, but may be more noticeable at home or at school.”  This is just another tool/weapon in Procrustes’ hand.  What’s wrong with questioning rules often?

I know it’s a hard pill to swallow.  Arguing about the truth is a waste.  My advise to parents in the Procrustean system is to pull your head of the sand and your kids out of forced schooling and allow them to re-discover their imagination and curiosity.  Real education will follow.

The model of forced public schooling is broken.  No amount of money stolen from producers at the point of government guns can fix this rudderless, sinking monopoly called public education.  The ship’s crew are constantly rearranging chairs on the deck, but public education will sink.

Is reform possible?  No.  Let her sink!  But what about your teaching job?  I’ll take my chances on plying my skills on the free market.


Copyright © 2011 by Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.