By Susan Townley
I used to joke that the only reason for going to kindergarten was to learn how to stand in line, walk in single file, and be quiet. I associate kindergarten with the beginning of endless boredom that turned my once bright days from gray to the black of depression.
It took years for me to understand that I was depressed because school bored to death at school. After realizing this, the lessons how school lessons of kindergarten seemed pernicious than amusing. They were no longer a because they were intended to coral my enthusiasm, curiosity, creativity, and individuality so that I would seem to be more like my classmates with whom I had little in common.
Rather than teach students to think critically, American students learn that there are right answers to almost every question. The tests are not graded by teachers, but by computers. Between the formulaic questions and the computerized assessment of the scores, the tests do not inform the teacher about how effectively she or he is engaging with her or his students. Are the excited? Perplexed? Just as the “good” kindergartener quietly stands in line with his fellows, in the higher grades the “good’ student gives the same answer to test questions as those his peers give. There is only one thing they need to know – the right answer.
We are taught to conform in the way we act. We must learn to think and talk as they want us to. We are not encouraged to question, debate, or challenge. We are not encouraged to be creative. We are encouraged to act as if we were all the same…
Why is it that we are not taught to think independently? Why is it that students across the nation are taught the same things in the same way? Why are creative people looked on as potential threats to society? Why are scholars and scientists considered to be “other” whether they are “brains,” or “nerds” or whatever dismissive or disdainful adjective in current usage to isolate those among us who cannot, or will not conform? It is a way to control us all.
This kind of conformity requirement leads to failure because it requires that the individual deny who she or he is.
Just as the eggheads and nerds are outliers, students of color are expected to act as if they are White by their teachers and the school administration. Not only is success defined by the ability of individual’s to conform to school administrators’ expectations of how the ideal student behaves. By insisting that Black students behave as if they were White, from the outset of their educations, Black children are at high risk of failure.
This nation, established as it was by enlightenment intellectuals who, by British standards were no conformists, has established an educational system that forces children to conform. We do not become creative members of American society? Instead, quite ironically, in this nation founded by non-conformists, we are educated to conform. As conformists we do not challenge the status quo.
This may have been an adequate preparation for a work life spent in mass production, but workers who need to change careers, or those who must multitask are ill-prepared.
As a nerd, and the child of writers, schoolmates often looked on me with suspicion and treated me as an oddball because their interests were not my interests. It was a common experience to hear disparagement in my classmates voice when they would ask on entering my family’s house and seeing the walls of bookcases lining the rooms “you read all these books?” I would acknowledge I belonged to a family of readers, but I was too insecure socially to acknowledge that books and ideas – intellectuality – was as important as breathing was to my family.
Richard Hofstadter, a distinguished American, observed in 1963-1964, that Americans tended to be anti-intellectual – mistrustful of intellectuals. Anti-intellectuals, like members of the Tea Party Movement, are hostile to education and philosophy. They dismiss the importance of the arts, literature, and the sciences. Academia is elitist and, therefore, contemptible. Who needs a college education when union workers earn more than teachers do?
This way of thinking, this approach to life in which career-long factory jobs that pay better than jobs that require college degrees became the entitlements of White men during the 20th century. The elimination of many of these jobs due to automation and the movement of industry to offshore stated led to a population of Americans to believe the fabrications of a mendacious demagog. Trump has convinced a segment of White Americans to believe that the jobs they did that required little formal training will be restored. No, he has seduced them into thinking that he can and will restore them when, because global warming and the development of alternative energy, mankind’s need for coal is over.
It will only be when those dedicated to the protection of the status quo, that is, those who believe that education does little to improving the quality of life and man’s capacity for living that new opportunities will become available. A terrific example of the way education has opened good careers to life long coal miners is the West Virginia Community that was taught by a husband and wife team of university professors how to write computer code. No longer unemployed miners lobbying to have the mines re-opened these men are delighted and amused to be earning safe, better, and more lucrative livings writing code.