Monday, May 14, 2007

Youth Ghettos.

Harking back to this and making some connections...

A few years back I read a novel by Terry England, called Rewind. It's long out of print and more's the pity. Judging from the reviews that you'll find on Amazon and in other places, not many people shared my unabashed liking of the book, and few would have agreed with my somewhat pithy review of it, the main sentence of which is 'Wish I had written it.' Some years on from writing that review I stand by it; if anything even more so than I ever have. The criticisms leveled against it are nuncupatory. They relate mostly to the reaction of the various elements of society to the event of having a bunch of seventeen adults regressed into bodies of 9 year olds, but with the memories and capabilities of their former adult selves. Way I see it, England was being very clearsighted, and while he drew things maybe somewhat sharply it's all pretty much on the mark. The reactions by media, politicians, religioids and scientists are pretty much what I'd expect would happen, with the dumb-witted public following suit as they usually do.

In relation to that article The Myth of the Teen Brain, the book appears particularly topical and to the point. And thinking about these things, and remembering my school days, most of which I thought were a waste of time then, and I've not really changed my mind about that today either, it occurred to me that school is possibly the greatest single factor in the process of keeping young people in a state that Germans might label Hörigkeit. The word translates into something like 'dependency', physical and otherwise, usually of the 'imposed' kind, though screwed-up minds might willingly enter into such a state for whatever obscure 'reasons' they happen to have.

To see what I mean by saying that school is a vehicle for producing, asserting and maintaining Hörigkeit, let us step back and look at what happens at 'school'. Let us ignore all the good things we want to think about 'education' for a moment and control our knee-jerk reactions to any notion, expressed by anybody, that it could be anything but beneficial.

In school, at all levels, and reaching even into first years of academic 'schooling', people usually labeled 'adults' tells others what they should do, how they should spend their time, what they should learn, what their work is worth, how they should think (remember "We don't tell you what to think, just how." from Serenity?) and for how long they should do all this. In particular we tell them what's good for them, and then even take the patronizing a few steps further by 'helping' them with making 'career' choices; after, of course, having spent years on conditioning the victims into becoming good and conforming citizens. Yes, they are being pushed toward conformance! It doesn't matter, really, what the standards are to which they are supposed to conform. Coercion is coercion.

The implied message of schooling is that adults know better than non-adults what's good for the latter and that therefore these latter people need to be taught stuff.

Of course, there is some truth in that. The growing human being requires a body of knowledge to equip him or her to become an adult capable of functioning in whatever social circumstances happen to be extant. In order to reach that stage they need a certain skill-set. Writing, reading and mathematics are probably a good start, plus a number of other things, depending on the circumstances. History might be good, as is geography, plus some basic science.

But, and here I will probably run afoul of just about every educator in the world, everything a human being needs to be 'taught', as opposed to 'needs to learn' which is a completely different thing, can be taught to a child of average intelligence between the age of 6 and, say, 13; and possibly it doesn't even take that long. And they'll probably enjoy learning it, with the only requirement being that it is taught in an appropriate manner. (Yeah, I know; what is 'appropriate'? Who defines it? Well, This is not the place to discuss so complex a subject. However, I am convinced that it is doable, and I'm waving my hands about saying, "of course it can be done; just because it hasn't been that doesn't prove anything!")

Can't be done? Kids won't be able to cope? Bullshit. Children are, by and large, at least twice as intelligent as adults think they are, and probably even more. That is, unless they're being made un-intelligent through the neglect inflicted upon them by adults during their early years of development.

Children are compulsive learners. While adults learn only if they've had a passion for it drummed into them when they were at a receptive age, children don't need a 'passion': they are compelled to learn by biology. 'Passion' for learning is a phenomenon that appears, or not, in later life. All the 'schooling' process needs to do is make use of the child's period of learning-compulsion, which is quite limited, flattening out rapidly by mid-teens. If by that time 'passion' has not been ignited, it's basically too late.

But does school make use of the best period? Hardly. This is the time when kids will learn at breakneck pace whatever is presented to them. And what does school do? They apply all kinds of methods to 'stimulate' a process that requires no stimulation, and take things slowly when it would be the ideal time to go full-bore. And the process is extended far beyond its use-by date with a 'curriculum' crammed full of stuff nobody really needs. And you know what the reaction of students tends to be: do just what is absolutely necessary to scrape by with the best marks producible under the circumstances. Just how good these are depends on the student, but this is the bottom line. I remember the technique and using it to its fullest.

As an aside, schooling systems in other political systems do make best use of the most impressionable ages. Religious and ideological indoctrination of obscene proportions is commonplace and produces the terrifying results it does and will continue to do. Of course, one might say the same thing about a lot of 'Sunday Schools'.

The results of our school systems are that a) students don't learn what they need to know when it would be optimal for them to learn it, b) students are bombarded with stuff that's so obviously useless and contrived for the purpose of keeping them at school and filling up the compulsory schooling years that by and large they regard it with barely-concealed contempt, c) students are kept in a state of Hörigkeit, explicit and implicit, to adults, who have immense control over their future lives, for a ridiculously long time, and d) students spend most of their time in the company of other students and therefore these become their peer group, and that translates into a lot of those issues which the aforementioned article discusses.

It occurs to me that a lot of what you might call the 'teen revolt' period is caused directly by being kept at school in Hörigkeit when everything in the growing person is screaming to become 'adult', to be acknowledged as someone who can assume responsibility, be entrusted with difficult tasks that matter, whose opinions are valid and have weight. But to have a teacher tell one that some opinion, passionately or seriously held for whatever reason that might involve a significant amount of cogency, is just held because one 'doesn't know better' or something like that, no matter how that response is phrased or disguised under a veneer of condescending waffle, and to have that teacher's opinion matter sufficiently so that it can translate into marks which might influence the manner in which society, employers, universities might view one as a result...that, you must admit, is a humiliating and disempowering experience. And this is, let's face it, the essence of the 'schooling' process, and not just in Western society.

By the way, I'm not suggesting that we work to change the system as it exists. I am not, because of two reasons. The first is that I have a notion that this is quite simply the price we must pay for 'education' and the benefits deriving from it. There's always a price, and this one's pretty steep; but pay it we must I guess. The second reason is that it cannot be changed. The 'educational' system is deeply enmeshed into our societal structure, as it is progressively so into that of other societies who are following our lead, even if they hate us otherwise. There is simply no way in which it can be changed; just as much as it's simply impossible, except at the risk of destroying ourselves completely, to change the course on which civilization on this planet has set itself. Think of it as a conflagration that has to run its course. We need to try and salvage as much out of it as we can, and put the energy of the fire to the best use possible.

But run its course it must. The situation lamented in The Myth of the Teen Brain will only get worse, for a while at least. But every fire will eventually run its course, and this one will, too. I wish it were different, but it isn't.

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