I taught you in English class when you were eighteen years old and I owe you an apology. In fact, all your teachers do.
I bought the lie and I lied to you, and it had a profoundly negative impact on you.
I told you that since you weren’t interested in dissecting Shakespeare, you wouldn’t amount to much in life. Oh I didn’t say it in those exact words, but close.
I remember taking you into the hallway–I know you remember it too (shame on me for shaming you) and telling you that “successful people pay attention and do well in class and study and make good grades.”
Your eyes filled with tears because that news must have been a crushing blow. (I can’t imagine being told that if I didn’t paint as well as the others in my art class, I wasn’t as good as them, and doomed to a life of failure.)
That’s what we’re all brainwashed to believe. That’s what the “smart” people say, and no one really sees how stupid it is. That grades are what makes someone successful? How were we even convinced of such nonsense?
You were smart. You were smart in a hundred ways but we used our tiny little measuring stick in our tiny little boxes and the ones who refused to jump through our tiny little hoops were made to feel stupid.
Thousands of children still suffer every day the way I made you suffer.
You knew back then what I refused to see. That there is nothing normal or productive about forcing energetic, curious boys to sit in desks all day and force-feed them Chaucer. Some are even being drugged to sit there. Perfectly wonderful boys, sedated to act like something they aren’t, to waste valuable time on a lecture they won’t remember when they could be learning so much more–stuff that will really give them a good life. I can’t believe we sit by and let it happen.
You didn’t need Chaucer.
You needed freedom. You needed to work with your hands and do what you were good at. To improve those skills that were uniquely yours and uniquely wonderful and just as important as writing essays.
And you needed us to tell you that. To say that there are a thousand ways to be smart. Some people do love Chaucer and some people love taking a car apart and putting it back together. Both of those things are good and needful and should receive equal attention and affirmation.
We told you it was good and normal to be isolated from real life all day in small cells, requiring permission to even go to the bathroom. You were a man and you couldn’t go to the bathroom unless I let you! We used bells to program you to stop and start on command, essentially saying that nothing is worth pouring your time and energy into until it’s finished.
We told you we were the experts and we defined “success” and we got to stamp your card for life to tell the world you were either a “good student” or a “bad student.”
Jacob, I am so ashamed to have claimed to be helping children, all the while hurting you and many others.
You survived despite our efforts to keep you confined within that box. That’s what the human spirit does. But I’m sure you would have been so much better off without us.
Well I’m different now, Jacob. I fight, in my little corner of the world, for people like you. For people like my own children–for the majority of children who are having their creativity, their originality, their unique gifts and interests crushed by those they trust.
Please forgive me. And don’t buy the lie. I was wrong. They are wrong.
There is an alternative to forced-schooling. Think Outside the Classroom.
“Schools are for showing off, not for learning. When we enroll our children in school, we enroll them into a never ending series of contests—to see who is best, who can get the highest grades, the highest scores on standardized tests, win the most honors, make it into the most advanced placement classes, get into the best colleges. We see those grades and hoops jumped through as measures not only of our children, but also of ourselves as parents. We find ways, subtly or not so subtly, to brag about them to our friends and relatives. All this has nothing to do with learning, and, really, we all know it.” -Dr. Peter Gray, Schools Are Good For Showing Off, Not for Learning