House of the Rising Sun

The big house of learning, it’s true, but the problems arise because someone decides what kind of learning will be going on in there.

Walker Percy wrote, “School is disappointing. If science is exciting and art is exhilarating, the schools and universities have achieved the not inconsiderable feat of rendering both dull. As every scientist and poet knows, one discovers both vocations in spite of, not because of, school. It takes years to recover from the stupor of being taught Shakespeare in English Lit and Wheatstone’s bridge in Physics.”

Stupor is just the word. The way schools do science, and the way schools do art, the process tires out the participants more than it enriches and invigorates them. They preach principles with a loud voice and practice vice in tiny, inconspicuous ways. In the name of scribing the codex of humanity, they infect the very codex with weakness and corruption. The modern school, I’d say, is the most evilly hypocritical structures on earth.

Why do I not give that top place to other vital institutions we have in our life, like, say, hospitals, or food manufacturers? – Because the school, thanks to the unique nature of our species, is the seedbed of all existent institutions we have across the world.  The school is the embryo hospital. It is the fetal stage of the factory, the clinic, the laboratory, the stage, the parliament, the studio, the sweatshop. The school is where your engineer erects their first wall, where your surgeon learns their first organs, your poet crafts their first stanza, your journalist jots down their first factoid, your graphic designer doodles their first art. It is where all the stories begin. When you compromise that place, when you compromise a school, – you compromise our species in the most fundamental way.

In a hospital, a doctor bleeds a patient dry because that’s how they have been brought up. They act in a selfish, greedy and callous manner because that’s the program that has been fed into their system. Don’t blame them, not at that stage. Don’t blame the tycoon who flees the country with the people’s billions. Don’t blame the politician who flaunts themself as the new Messiah divinely appointed to redefine the country. Don’t blame the ‘sons’ who leer on the roads at the ‘daughters.’ They are merely memory sticks, blind and malware loaded. Look for the place where they load the malware.

But of course, this is an oversimplification. The school is not ‘the place where one learns.’ The school is merely one faucet. Learning takes place all the time, and children are actually like sponges in picking up data from all around them. A kid will learn equally ravenously from his family, his neighbours, his classmates, his teachers, his TV shows, his books, the scribblings on the washroom wall and the signboards on the roadside shops. And you cannot tell them to behave, you cannot ask them or teach them into being good people. Carve these words by James Baldwin into your right arm and let the cut scab over and leave a scar so you don’t forget – “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.

Set examples before the children if you really want to ensure anything. And if you were the Almighty, you’d have to ensure that the kid is exposed to the right examples all across the spectrum of society, otherwise the good pulses from this quarter will be cancelled out or diluted by the bad pulses from another quarter. The old, classic problem parents have: “Oh but we never brought him up that way, how did he ever learn these things!” 

Wake up, parents. You want your kid not to die by drowning, don’t teach them how to avoid water… teach them how to fucking swim.

And swimming, truly swimming in the vast waters of life, swimming intelligently, swimming and exploring it and discovering all the breathtaking, exhilarating, endlessly calming and terribly awesome beauties it has to offer – – – this is something the schools of today simply do not do. They don’t do it. They resolutely refuse to do it.

Don’t forget pretentiousness. Pretension is the key here. George Carlin famously said, ‘Bullshit is the glue that binds us together as a nation.’ These words of truth apply to our system of education as well. In any self-respecting school you go to, – creativity, open-mindedness, positive interaction and proactive socializing are buzzwords that fly around everywhere. Teachers are clouded by swarms of ‘duty’, ‘commitment’, ‘responsibility’, ‘bonding’, ‘accountability’, ‘example setting’ and other parasites. Students are leeched by ‘respect’, ‘discipline’, ‘compliance’, ‘participation’, ‘propriety’, ‘favouritism’ – the usual lot. The administrative team are the gamekeepers, they keep the whole thing going while being henpecked by midget monsters born of their own ambition, slowly sucking them lifeless while fashioning them a crown with their own crooked bones.

In a school, you talk a lot about good things. You practice almost none of them when it comes to action.

Whom to blame, then? In the end we need to point the finger at someone, right? Otherwise what was the point in writing all this over here? – Well, I have no single person to blame. You want to blame someone, don’t repeat the ‘begin with yourself’ line that has been hoodwinking us for decades. We tried that. We began with ourselves. In this reality, we the commoners turn corrupt not because we choose to, but because we have to. So point that finger at the people who have the power to choose. Point it at the sybaritic emperors of the modern day world.

“Everyone who has ever been to school knows that school is prison, but almost nobody beyond school age says it is. It’s not polite. We all tiptoe around the truth because admitting it would make us seem cruel and would point a finger at well-intentioned people doing what they believe to be essential. . . . A prison, according to the common, general definition, is any place of involuntary confinement and restriction of liberty. In school, as in adult prisons, the inmates are told exactly what they must do and are punished for failure to comply. Actually, students in school must spend more time doing exactly what they are told than is true of adults in penal institutions. Another difference, of course, is that we put adults in prison because they have committed a crime, while we put children in school because of their age.” – Peter O. Gray


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