“Young minds are dampened and diminished every day in numbers too great to bear thinking about, forced through a system that stuns the capacity for a lifetime of growth. In contrast to insects, as someone said, human beings start out as butterflies and end up in cocoons.” — Marilyn Ferguson, “The Aquarian Conspiracy.”
Our younger son just barely made it through high school. Though he was told that he was the only one in his freshman class who passed all of the tests for minimum graduation requirements the first time he took them, he barely made it through, graduating with only one-half credit over what was required. He has a very creative mind but, because it didn’t fit the accepted student stereotype, he often felt unappreciated and misunderstood. To him, high school was a drag.
He spent those years keenly aware of the hypocrisy, the overemphasis on competition, the inflexibility of the system, and it really got to him. I would recite the usual claptrap. “This quirk of yours is not harming anyone but yourself. You can’t change the system, so for your own good, you had better knuckle down.” In other words, “Stuff your feelings. Don’t challenge authority.” I should have been ashamed of myself! But, through it all, he remained true to his feelings and struggled along, bucking the system by rebelling passively (mostly), keenly aware of a lot of things I later suspected the other two went through in high school in their own way.
I was very concerned about him and his friends — all very intelligent and creative young people — who were misunderstood and unappreciated by most of their teachers. Those kids would have been thrilled if someone would have taken them seriously and helped them develop their particular talents, encouraged them to use their sometimes quirky minds in rewarding and constructive ways.
Had you asked these kids what the schools needed to do to become more relevant to the lives of more teens, they would have had much to say. But no one asked them. The schools then, as today, were chiefly interested in the what was considered left-brained types who would conform and comply. Seems the education hierarchy still prefers to stick its head in the sand and force-feed those who will swallow and regurgitate their rigid, circumscribed curricula.
So, after years of mediocre success at turning out knowledgeable high school graduates, along came “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” — two mindless regimens the education hierarchy is continuing to attempt to cram into students. It’s been reported though that they aren’t producing results. Instead of opening their minds to new and different aspects of learning, they try to tighten the lid on what is often a boiling pot of frustration, boredom, disillusionment and despair. And the myopia continues.
In writing of today’s reformers of education in her new book, “Reign of Error,” Diane Ravitch tells us: “The reformers define the purpose of education as preparation for global competition, higher education or the workforce. They view students as ‘human capital’ or ‘assets.’ One seldom sees any reference in their literature, or public declarations to the importance of developing full persons to assume the responsibilities of citizenship.”
Intelligent, creative, intuitive types are not the only group of students who receive short shrift. Consider those for whom life is a constant struggle, who have no hope of going to college, who live in seriously dysfunctional circumstances, may be into drugs and/or alcohol in an attempt to ease their pain, and/or whose problems may be so overwhelming that they can’t concentrate on anything the schools have to offer. Neglecting these young people is a sure way to increase the dropout rate.
Many students are in dire need of help in preventing pregnancy, understanding themselves and others, and learning some useful skills for employment after high school. Each one of these human beings is just as valuable as the other and should be treated as such by the schools, if for no other reason to prevent the continued development of the elite on one hand and the deprived on the other who, in their frustration, can cause much chaos for society — as we see every day.
As Eda LeShan wrote in “The Conspiracy Against Childhood”: “Some of our young people are so deeply affected by the incongruities, the hypocrisy, the shallowness of the life around them that their general disillusionment is expressed in a wish to rebel or escape. But we are making a mistake if we interpret this attitude merely as immaturity or instability. The world in which we live is REALLY so cock-eyed that it doesn’t seem to me at all surprising or alarming that so many young people are in such distress.”
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 700 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.