Sunday, May 28, 2017

Goldfish swallowing

Nearly half of American children spend at least 16 years in school.

School is a pretty artificial environment. There are fixed courses of study that don’t necessarily bear on what is going on (or will happen!) in your life, and within a course there are arbitrary projects and questions designed to make sure you master the material. When done, typically you won’t care 2 cents about them—and neither will anyone else. They aren’t intrinsically significant.

But we want to do something significant; we want to stand out from the crowd somehow. In school, there are some problems with this.

  • Athletics take lots of uncomfortable work, and in the end you may not stand out much compared to those with natural talent.
  • Math can be hard when you get beyond the elementary branches, and the advanced branches need talent.
  • Music takes practice, and the conductor usually objects to one musician in an orchestra standing out from the rest, unless the score calls for it.
  • Something dramatic and goofy, like phone booth stuffing? Problem is, people might laugh at you.
  • A job, or marriage? The system is designed to make it harder to do schooling when you work or raise a family. Twain said that he never let his schooling get in the way of his education; we need to make sure that schooling doesn't get in the way of our lives. That means some re-design...
  • Student government? The local stakes are normally dramatically lower than they are in state or national government, and that irks. But perhaps if you can expand the scope, and try out Utopian plans?
  • Being a prophet? If you’re an approved type, that can be a good gig—you get to indulge in lots of yelling and denunciation, and since you’re approved you don’t have to worry about the usual troubles real prophets have.

3 comments:

Mark Anderson said...


Moral superiority of the prophet allows all kinds of gratifying anti-social behaviors that were beaten out of the rest of us as children. Smugness is the icing.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@Mark - it must persist for some reason, though. Is it because some adults reward this behavior or because some students do? (Sufficient reward overcomes even active discouragement.)

To the OP. Yes, we have a largely artificial system for preparing each generation for adulthood. Such things work well enough because many children will succeed at whatever we throw at them. It seems a shame to waste that much determination on only partly-useful tasks. It is even more of a shame to create failure in children who might have succeeded in another system.

james said...

It is also a lot of years to spend.