Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Change The Way You Educate Us

In kindergarten, I once remained outside in the playground well after recess was over and laid on top of the Snoopy doghouse for nearly an hour, even as my classmates and teacher beckoned me to come back in. They finally gave up and I came back in when I felt like. I don't recall if I was punished for it, but I do recall it was neither my first nor last act of defiance in school.

When my family and I moved further north, I was made to see a social worker twice a week from third grade all the way through high school. To me, those (and in-house suspension) were the best periods of my journey through the "system": I was allowed to explore myself, learn and create new things uninhibited and express my thoughts and feelings without judgment.

Back in my then-new elementary school, I often had headaches that resulted in me spending quite a bit of time in the nurse's office resting, or getting into fights or confrontations with classmates that resulted in spending a lot of time in the principal's office (sometimes voluntarily, though I had no respect for the principal himself as opposed to his assistants). Once, he banished me to a corner table in the cafeteria where the janitor ate his lunch, away from my classmates with whom I was in constant disagreement with. I enjoyed my solitude so much, it somehow became the "cool table" with some of my classmates sneaking over to join me.

Once, in a fit of exasperation and rage, I stormed out of the front door of the school, determined to walk all the way home by myself. The substitute principal, a kinder man than the regular one, chased after me and rather than dragging me back, appealed to my senses and sought instead to convince me to stay, leaving me to make up my own mind. My respect for him and his respect for me tipped the scale on his side and I returned. All of my teaches from fourth through sixth grade took a special interest in me and both encouraged and protected my development, though at the time I didn't know exactly why. All of them had reputations for being tough and no-nonsense, but I saw plenty of compassion from them that said otherwise.

With all the alternating drama and boredom, I still managed to be a well-above average student. It wasn't until seventh grade and the various day-to-day "periods" where I started having issues with education itself. I began to challenge my teachers and material more often and more directly, and where I made no headway or received no sensible responses to my queries, I became disinterested and tuned out. Some classes, I excelled in, some I failed or skated by. Some of my favorite subjects in elementary school became anathema in junior high and high school, some I became intensely more interested in.

Old friends drifted off and I made new ones. Headaches became seizures and life-threatening procedures. I skipped classes I was bored with to follow my passions unabated. Instead of fighting with fists, I debated students and teachers and convinced classmates not to fight at all (or in some cases to not even consider attempting to fight me if it was in their minds all along). I carried myself like a senior from the moment I first stepped onto high school campus, and went rouge in and out of the classroom on a whim. Some people thought I was a dork, but a lot of people thought I was cool.

Nevertheless, I hardly ever felt cool. I never felt like I fit in. I had friends in quite a few different groups, but my identity was hard to manage or define. I felt, if nothing else, like that same kid in kindergarten who defied his teacher and classmates and lay on top of the doghouse after recess, resting and reflecting while everyone else was in class. I was scared, scared for my life. I knew not whether I would survive the seizures or the newly-discovered abnormality in my heart. Moreover, I did not trust the "system", nor what it presented and represented. If I survived, what would become of me? What was waiting for me after my journey was over? I could see it coming; the changes. The economy our parents had would not be waiting for us when we graduated. Why could our teachers and administrators not see this? I did not want to fall through the cracks. To this day, I don't know how exactly I managed to escape high school with what was then considered a high-achieving Regents diploma (Regents later became the standard, so it's nothing special these days). But my only regret through all of it was being right about what I saw coming. And in trying to escape the inevitable, I fell anyway.

My first experience in college, which was also my first experience away from home, was a miserable failure. After three years of free-fall in an environment I was totally unprepared and unsuited for (yet finally finding and pursuing my passion for filmmaking and further developing my craft and cartooning), I went back home and reinvented myself, armed with the experience from my previous volume of life failures. Life was not over with me even then, but I became a different person when I was done with it all. I took the bull by the horns, if you will, and made college work fro me instead of the other way around. What I learned in class was supplementary to what I learned on my own. I took what I wanted.

And that's what's wrong with our schools now, and have been wrong with them for a long time. Our schools don't teach us what we want to know, but instead teaches us what they want us to know, which is often outdated and obsolete, They teach us to obey rather than think, to accept rather than observe and query. To be a box, not be outside the box. The love and desire to learn is forced out of most of us at an early age, and in it's place is a desire to succeed with no clear goals in mind. And when we don't succeed, we have nothing to cope with except what we can get our hands on, because tangible objects are seen as evidence of significance. Lacking that, we seek ways to escape the hurt and shame. Self-harm, or harming others, all in a desperate effort to escape... something.

Frankly, six problems does not cover nearly enough of the problems with the "system". But these are fairly significant and worth your undivided attention. Perhaps this entry will put things in enough of a perspective for you to desire immediate change and progress, for yourself and for those around you. Don't wait for the comet to hit us head-on, and don't wait for someone else to do it (which is what got us where we are now as a rapidly fading society). Seek knowledge and adapt, make true progress. The world some insist on bringing back are only reflections of light that no longer have matter or substance. It's time to look away from those shadows and move forward.

Change the way you educate us.