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Sunday, June 10, 2007

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Tim

Face it Dan, you're still a meathead.

"Maybe irony, skepticism and clever gamesmanship are the best things we can teach our children."

Certainly useful lessons, but perhaps the "best" we can teach our children is that "institutions" are neither inherently infallible or evil. Once they understand that, irony, skepticism and clever gamesmanship become social skills among many other tools they can develop to work with the humans that inhabit the institutions and make them something other than "the machine."

Sue

"And so what I learned was that the people in charge are full of shit, that chasing after success, as defined by society's various anointed authorities, is for suckers."

I KNEW I liked you. I just didn't know exactly why. Now I do.

Yours,
A**-kissing brown-nose A+ student who wanted just once, the balls to feel the way you did.

jmsloop

Interesting post, Dan, and one of those issues I think about a lot. While your particular story is horrible because of how personal some of the actions seem to have been, I find myself often appalled at how institutional the attitude you describe can be. In the public education system, here, like in a lot of them, the "most gifted" kids can apply for one of a couple of academic magnet schools. However, upon arriving at the school, parents of bright but creative, seeking kids will find that the school cannot work with them. That is, if a child asks too many questions, or doesn't follow a pretty precisely prescribed set of behaviors, the parents are told that, regardless of how gifted the kid is, the academic magnets are made with one particular curriculum in mind, and it stresses education by the books. (Meaning, ultimately, that very gifted but 'adventuresome' kids have to return to "regular" schools).

In these cases, I'm sorta torn. Of course, the system is right that if they want to follow one curriculum, everyone needs to stay completely on task. On the other hand, it would seem to be valuable--albeit expensive--to find a way to work with the little Danny Conovers of the world as well. Ultimately, of course, those are the kids who will be the real gold for the scoial whole.

Agricola

I didn't have to get to the bottom of the post to know the author. And I'm not surprised at your experience. What is sad is that there is more than one kid in the class.......and they are absolutely stifled by the crap that is the public school system we own. From the school boards to the administrations to the principals to the teachers, the definition of our educational system is the least amount for the most with no real concern for results.

toast

alas, like the rest of life, schools are administered & staffed by mostly ordinary people who do not know what to do with the extraordinary besides attempt to subdue or stifle. it makes them uncomfortable. my mother taught senior english in traditionally disadvantaged high schools and i can attest that extraordinary teachers are also generally unwelcome.

in all this is a valuable lesson that real miracles come 99.9% of the time in the shape of people, sometimes strangers like your rebellious GS administrator, who somehow resonate, who sense some recognition and feel they must respond. i think we are bound to honor that gift by sharing our advantage in kind, by making a difference in the mundane structures abounding. or just be an asshole & not.

Laura Knight

Dan,

This is truly a great post. I was reading it in my email (as I subscribe to Xark via an RSS aggregator), which doesn't display the author of the post; halfway through, I had to click the link to go to Xark and see for myself--yup, that's gotta be Dan. :)

The most important thing I learned in high school was: "Question Authority". That phrase, that mindset, has served me well in the rest of my life, not in aiding my professional success (the opposite sometimes, in fact), but by being most certainly the thing that's allowed me to find my place in the world without being consumed and overrun by it. The teacher who repeated that phrase, over and over, during my sophomore English class in a small town? The long-haired hippie who was disdained by much of the faculty for his liberal politics, activism, and familiar relationships with students. He was one of the most influential educators that school ever had, though, because he didn't toe the line; he stepped right over it to the place where kids learn to think for themselves.

Again, great post, and I really enjoy the smart, insightful things I read on Xark.

Namaste,

Laura Knight

Sam

Dear Daniel,

This post reminds me of the story I heard once growing up. Dad must have told it to me, but now he doesn't remember it. He said that you had some profoundly gorked English teacher who, no matter what you did in her class, gave you the same B and smiley face on your work. One day she assigned you a ten page essay about something she clearly neither knew nor cared anything about and you finally got fed up. You, being the brilliant and cheeky kid I imagine you must have been, wrote one reasonable if not scintillating first page on the assigned topic and then wrote nine more pages of "blah blah blah". In retrospect, this may have meant you said meaningless things, but I always imagined you actually wrote "blah" for the rest of the nine pages and was in awe of your balls. I was even more impressed when I learned that this stupid woman again gave you a B and a smiley face. From then on, the story went, you pointedly ignored this woman. It was only when she finally tried to call you on your contumacious attitude that you stood up and pulled out your essay and in front of the whole class outted her in your explanation of why she did not deserve your attention. The story ended with a great deal of pride from Dad in your obvious superiority and bravery. You and he both faced such injustice in school, but you came out different.

My school experience was nothing like yours. All the school administrators knew my mom's name and she fought tooth and nail to make sure that the teachers gave me special treatment all the way up to middle school. At that point, against Dad's initial wishes, I went to a truly Friendly Quaker high school that remedied most if not all of the social retardation public school had tried to force down my throat. (I didn't know that you went to Quaker school, too - there is so much I don't know about you.)

Last year I worked with Spanish-speaking kids in middle and high school, as you may know. Their experience is far away from mine, and worst of all for the METS kids (who have interrupted education when they arrive - many are completely illiterate in their own languages). When we partnered with the school system we were forbidden from telling them that they weren't going to graduate. You can only graduate now (thanks to NCLB) if you pass the HSAs and if you haven't by 21 you're out and they were 17 and couldn't write their names, but we were still told to smile in their faces and tell them that a diploma was the touchstone they should measure their value by. Why? Because if they found out that they might not graduate, they might drop out, and that would mean more kids on the streets and the administrators who weren't trying their damndest to kick out all the imperfect kids were only trying to keep them in school to decrease their opportunities for gang involvement (and failing, of course).

My only hope is when I see smart kids like one I grew up babysitting named Andrew (around the same age as Luke - they met when y'all came up for Dad and Trish's wedding). He's in the same communications magnet I was in, and in middle school when he was assigned an Independant Media Project, he did a documentary on the funding and teaching quality of the different area public schools by race and socio-economic status of the surrounding community. Nothing ever came of it, that I know of, but it still helps me stay optimistic.

Should this be a comment? Feel free to delete it if it's too personal or too long.

Janet

Sam!!!! Yeay!!!

ben

And so what I learned was that the people in charge are full of shit, that chasing after success, as defined by society's various anointed authorities, is for suckers.

We've resurrected this thread (thanks Sam), and I always meant to comment.

I think one of the most personally damaging things I ever did was buy into high school (administrator) values, where being a "good kid" and academic performance mattered most, and following someone else's standards was better than figuring out your own. That teaches you to be an approval-seeking machine, and it never forces you to gain the inner self-confidence and personal convictions involved in the hard work of going against the flow. You get handed a set of standards, and you perform. On things that matter, you never think for yourself.

It's a tradeoff, I suppose. I have a good friend who went to a Quaker school who is a terrible writer because he was never forced to learn grammar. I help him with that. But he has a joy of learning, and an easy love of ideas, that I struggle to possess.

One last story: I had a friend named Tommy who moved away mid-sophomore year. Tom was a smart free spirit, smoked a lot of weed, and we did chemistry homework together and became friends. We both liked to BS about religion and philosophy, me as a (then) evangelical Christian, him as a free-thinking early-90s hippie-type.

Once, Tom got this big idea that we were going to cut school and drive west, not telling anyone until we were long gone (or maybe not at all). We would have stayed gone maybe a week, I bet, doing who knows what.

In most ways, it was a terrible idea, and I never had the guts to do it. Tom may have been bluffing. But I've always wondered how doing something so gleefully unaccepatable might have changed me. I wouldn't have graduated at the top of myy class, and teachers never would have looked at me the same. Which probably would have been better, in the long run.

Janet

Ah, Ben. I'm so with you on that. I was terribly uptight most of my school life. No one who knows me now would even believe it. I had to be perfect at everything, which, when you are trying to be a straight-A student and cool, makes for plenty of angst.

I, too, wonder how life would have been different if I had been able to relax a little. Maybe some lessons wouldn't have been so painful, bending instead of breaking.

That's one of the drawbacks of living in time and space: We can't experience all possible permutations of life. I guess my life looked pretty good to some people. In college, a friend and I both applied for an honors group. I got in and she didn't. When I was trying to console her, she brushed me off, saying I didn't know what it was like, because I always got what I wanted.

It sure didn't feel that way to me at the time, but I don't know what experiences I would trade. Maybe I'll be a wild child in the next life. Or maybe that was last time.

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