I was watching John Stewart the other night and thought, I wonder what people said to him when he would say, ‘I want to be a comedian’.

I’ll bet it went something like this, “Yeah right, kid. Just fill in the bubbles, and get in the machine like everyone else.”

Fortunately for us, he didn’t listen to the soul suckers. He did what he wanted to do anyway.

But stepping out of the machine isn’t the norm. In fact, we teach our youngest citizens to fall in line at a young age. The result, kids HATE school and only attend school because they have to.

But before dreams are squashed like a bug under the education system’s heavy hand, students might be dreaming of something big. Maybe it’s an app they have plans to develop, or a paddleboard business near the beach, or a backpacking expedition across Southeast Asia. Sooner or later however, most give up on those dreams because it’s easier to just get in the machine.

And deep down we don’t want a nation of dreamers and comedians. We want a nation of rule-following, drones. Chaos scares the shit out of us so we encourage students to subdue their desires and ideas and follow the rules.

And that approach is working very well. We are producing rule-following, test-taking, drones.

An example is, a teacher stands in front of the classroom and says, “Today you’re going to free write. For 20 minutes you’re all going to write about anything you want, anything at all. There’s no right way or wrong way to do this activity. It’s completely up to you how you tackle this assignment.”

The students sit in disbelief and confusion. One raises his hand and asks, “How long does it have to be?”

The teacher smiles and says, “As long as you feel it needs to be.”

Another asks, “How many points is this worth?”

Smiling and shaking her head, “It’s not worth any points; it’s just a participation grade. This is an activity to get you thinking an writing – to get your creative juices flowing.

Another hand, “What are the topics we should pick from?”

“The topic and ideas are inside of you, you just have to bring them out and write about. Just express yourself any way you want to.”

Frustration builds as another asks desperately, “Is there a rubric? I mean how are we supposed to know what you want us to do without a grading rubric?”

This scenario is troubling and we have no one to blame for this problem but ourselves. We, and the systems we fuel, have weakened the creative muscle and the desire to innovate.

In school students are told from a young age, “color inside the lines; do it like the example; fill in the bubble.” Students are praised when they fit in, achieve on standardized assignments and tests, and fall in line; students are punished when they socialize too much, question the status quo, and refuse to follow instructions.

The only thing our current education system is preparing our students for is a life of compliance – a life spent in a cubicle somewhere churning out mediocre work for mediocre pay.

And if you’re reading this blog from the computer screen in your cubicle you know that the cubicle life sucks. You may tell people, “I really like my job. Seriously.” But deep down inside you envision yourself pulling and Office Space moment of kicking down your flimsy cubicle walls and telling your boss to go fuck himself.

Ugh…I’d hate to see my daughter stuck in a cubicle.

Why would we prepare our children for a life of compliance and a life of taking orders from middle management? We should be preparing students for a life of kicking the door off the hinges and knocking the system on its ass. We should be telling our students to question everything.

I am so tired of beige, lackluster choices, middle of the road decisions and walking the line so no one gets offended. Boring, boring, boring.

Students should be offending authority, breaking the rules, and pushing buttons. That’s the only way things change. Too often we hear, “this is the way it’s always been done.” If that is the only reason we are doing things, we should immediately start doing it differently.

Because the world doesn’t need more cubicle dwellers; it needs more John Stewarts.  

7 Responses

  1. JWMJ

    When you think about the objective of education, there could be multiple answers.
    To be the best garbage hauler or the best CEO? Or, to your point, the best cubicle resident putting in a eight-hour day? Ultimately, is it producing a educated citizen that contributes to the well-being of his fellow man? All in all, we KNOW we need to educate; we just need to figure out how and how much.
    I am eager to see the the results of tens of thousands of smart kids’ input into this very topic. I urge you to follow this year’s FIRST LEGO League challenge (http://www.firstlegoleague.org/) as kids determine “the ways that kids need and want to learn.” The project topic this year is “World Class Learning Unleashed.” This should not be a “kids, teach your parents well” experience, but hopefully a way to shift the way education could morph in our current days of technology advancements, social expansion worldwide and a fresh look at our US education system.

  2. Suzan Harden

    As I read this, I thought about an assignment my classmates and I were given in 4th grade. We were given a “ditto” with the shapes of several different fruits drawn on it. We were to color the fruits the appropriate color, staying inside the lines, and then cut them out. I was sitting there, dutifully coloring inside the lines, when I noticed that Donald, who sat across the aisle from me, was just scribbling the crayon across the fruit shapes (the colors were right). The teacher came by and asked why he wasn’t following directions. He looked straight at her in his 9-year-old innocence and said, “Why does it matter if we color inside the lines if we’re going to cut them out anyway?” I don’t remember her answer; all I remember is my complete shock that a teacher’s assignment might not make much sense. Donald was not one of the “stars” in our class. He had a slight physical impairment, and he had green teeth because his parents didn’t provide proper dental care. I haven’t seen him since graduation. I don’t know what he’s doing. But I surely hope he’s still coloring outside the lines. As a lifelong “colorer-inside-the-lines” who realizes what an unsatisfying end that brings, I hope he’s still that independent thinker!

    For those of you who wonder if this actually has a point, it is this. That teacher was not a bad teacher. She is the teacher who inspired me to be a teacher. She opened the world to me with her wonderful Geography lessons. She was nice to me when I was the new girl in school. She read wonderful stories to us. She dressed professionally every day and gave me the idea that I wanted to be a “professional.” But her creative thinking had its limits, and she passed her limits on to me. It may not be complacency as much as it is not having time or encouragement to think another way.

    You are right that leaders fear independent thinkers because they refuse to be blown off. I have known for a long time that when leaders say they want critical thinkers, they are lying. They want people to be easily led. That doesn’t mean we have to comply.

    We can’t waste our time thinking about our complacent colleagues and public. We have to keep going in the direction we know is right. It won’t happen in the time frame we want; but if we don’t give up, we will be successful. Maybe too exhausted to stand up, but successful! Keep calm and carry on!

  3. donnether taylor

    I am the type of teacher who expects students to do these very things. Think outside the box, talk, be heard! More often when I was working for a different school system than I am now, these things caused me to be written up a number of times by the principal and her appointed partners in education crime because I had student to learn in many ways. Needless to say, every student I have ever taught passed every test including the state test but I was never given recognition for it but instead more writeups. I want everyone to know that if a school does not have a good leader good teachers will leave and the kiss-ups will remain sending students to the next grade unprepared. Its so sad that I went to school so excited to become a teacher and now I still love to teach but its not like it use to be. Teachers I know wish they could go to another profession but went to school only to teach. Some students hate school because its really boring now and the curriculum is hard to understand. I just hope that the cube goes away forever but at the rate things are now in education, we will see how it unfolds.

  4. Thomas Mrak

    The message is simple- Conform or be poor.

    Being average is better than being an outcast.

    Compliance has come to equal intelligence, and few adults question it.

    They belittle new ideas, but yet continue to complain about their bosses, how they don’t own enough, etc.

    We can blame education for this all we wish, but people choose to prop up their own enslavement because of the false sense of security and the approval it gets from their peers.

  5. The Alternative

    No education prepares you for a life of welfare and low paying jobs.

    There will always be a status quo and like it or not you are most likely the status quo you are complaining about.

  6. Jim Oase

    We are in the age of iPads replacing pencils. Fifty some years ago someone published and article about no one person can make a pencil. Then broke the process of making a pencil down to some of the specialized skills and knowledge required.

    Today an iPad takes multiple times more specialized skills and knowledge. Yet our schools are refining cookie cutter education to prepare fewer for life after graduation. In the race of life our compulsory school graduates are an increasing distance from the starting blocks according to PISA scores. We need more specialists and are purposely planning to train fewer.

    Today, the 4th of July, stared as celebration of pride. Can we expect K-12 compulsory school graduates to be proud of their nation’s history if what little is taught is slanted? Racist this and racists that is filling our public dialog. Ask a history teacher when black Americans gained suffrage, few will know that black Americans voted for ratification of the Constitution or that women had suffrage in one state prior to the Civil War.

    Compulsory school K-12 graduates today can not read our founding documents in their original form, their ignorance makes them dependent of “experts”.

    Their ignorance of simple economics has them believing that gas for the automobile is more expensive today than in the 1950…60s. As if productivity had reversed its self. An ounce of gold in 1960 would buy 106 gallons of gas. The same ounce today will buy 340 gallons of gas. Find a graduate that knows and can explain why our dollar has lost buying power.

    Those students are next years voters and parents. Can we keep sliding further into ignorance and expect to improve our standard of living?

    Since the 1800s we have added K and 9-12 grades to our production line school system, yet our standard of living stopped increasing at the 1800s rate. We have lost our productivity edge to world competition, while our level of educated public rating has dropped and we devalued our currency. These all indicate a failure of our education system.

    We need more specialists in skills and knowledge because we are making more and more products, with more products coming over the horizon each day. Can the United States be the inventors, producers and sellers of an increasing range of products if we continue with our mass production line scheme of education?

    We all know city kids look ignorant in the country and visa versa because it takes specialized skills and knowledge to survive. General information is like a universal tool, it rarely fits what you need it for.



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