Anarchy 43/High School U.S.A.

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High School


It is time for us to come to grips with the fact that we are the ones re­spons­ible for creating the viol­ence that is present in our so­ciety, and that we can do some­thing about it by real­is­ing what we’re doing. Psychi­atry has laid bare the fact that we af­fect the child in in­fancy and child­hood. But once we put the child in the schools we stop prob­ing. Can’t we con­tinue the search and find out what con­di­tion­ing in the schools fosters so much hatred in adults? The very methods we are so virtu­ous about in the schools are not giving the re­sults we think they are, but are creat­ing an anger and re­sent­ment that lasts the whole of our lives. At the High School level this con­di­tion­ing reaches its peak. The fol­low­ing notes on High Schools are the re­sult of dis­cus­sions between con­cerned parents.

  Schools create life and death pres­sure to suc­ceed, but to suc­ceed into what. High schools pres­sure kids at a Col­lege level for the school’s glory, and parents sit on the side lines and root them on. We take ad­vantage of the fact the chil­dren want to please the parents and teach­ers. They do a lot against their own grain for the parent’s ap­proval (love). The parents ex­ploit this. The stu­dents should please them­selves. High School should be a time for self dis­covery, and for sampling at the student’s own speed. In­stead they are taught tech­niques, not how to think. The stu­dents are inter­ested in know­ing where they will fit, what they would be good at, but in­stead are driven for ex­cel­lence in sub­jects that have no mean­ing to them at this time.

  We dull them in an in­cuba­tion period so they won’t know what the world is really about. They get reward for false­ness in test­ing in­stead of truth. The truth of the matter is they really don’t under­stand, can’t pos­sibly under­stand most of what they are writing or read­ing, or get­ting tested on. But they have to find tricks for study­ing to get a good grade. To get a good grade things have to be done super­fi­cially so every­thing that is re­quired can be fin­ished on time. A trick for doing things you don’t like to do as well as what you do like thereby dulling your true feel­ings. There is no energy left for what you really want to do there­fore set­ting a pat­tern for all your life. It leads to a subtle feel­ing of guilt if you really are having a good time at some­thing.

  We don’t let stu­dents start at their own level. We set up stand­ards for them. They should be al­lowed to start at a begin­ning level, even if garish, whether in clothes, music, art, history, ideas, any­thing. We don’t let them begin at the bottom and work up to the level they are able to reach. Only through a long slow pro­cess of free­dom of choice, and plenty of trial and error, plenty of errors, can a person de­velop any au­thor­ity on his own. We would then be able to break through the me­diocrity of our culture, and wouldn’t rely on fashion or critics to judge for us. We must have the judge­ment to act on our own in­sight and de­ci­sion, and not from the mere wish to copy con­ven­tion.

  Another de­struct­ive aspect of the grad­ing system is the em­phasis put on each stu­dent for self-at­tain­ment and the con­tinual com­pet­i­tion fostered between each child. A whole group of chil­dren can’t be doing well, each at his own speed under the present system. But we are so proud of the curve system where some are Cham­pions, some fail­ures, and they can rise only at someone else’s ex­pense. Work isn’t done for a feel­ing of self-fulfil­ment, or for the com­mun­ity, but for the grade. Even in some lower grades where the grad­ing system has been abol­ished the slow learn­ers still feel pitted against the fast learn­ers. And under the new SRA read­ing method the child knows by the colour pencil he has to use. The methods are subtle but even more deadly than report cards. A line graph, black and white which seems in­vulner­able, you’re below average, in the middle or above average. A mother feels as if God has spoken when they show her where her child rates against his room mates, the area, and the nation. After 12 or more years of this con­di­tion­ing what wonder the adult thinks more of his profit than the value of his product or ser­vice. He has never had the ex­peri­ence of com­mun­ity action. It was wrong if you helped another pupil write a theme, or pass a test.

  For at least 80,000 years man was a hunter, until pos­sibly 8,000 years ago when he began to settle into agri­cul­tural com­mun­ities. Man’s emo­tions, drives and phys­ical in­herit­ance all are geared for sur­vival as a hunter. Our pat­terns of living should take into ac­count what is a natural part of our make-up. In the near past boys of high school age satis­fied their drives by going to sea, into armies, the fron­tier, or becom­ing ap­pren­tices in the eco­nomic world. It wasn’t neces­sarily per­fect solu­tions to their needs, but now the chil­dren seem to be in school as much because there just isn’t any other place for them. They aren’t wanted in the home or the eco­nomic world. So we pile them into bigger and bigger schools of hun­dreds or thou­sands of chil­dren, the archi­tec­ture of which is like a modern jail, and fear­fully watch them so an­ti­cip­ated vi­ol­ence won’t break out. Well for the most part the stu­dents have been so well con­di­tioned through grammar school that very little vi­ol­ence breaks out there. But is it any wonder that our world fan­tas­ises on the great­est of all pos­sible vi­ol­ence. I agree with Jung that maybe we shouldn’t main­tain that atomic phys­i­cists are a pack of crim­in­als, but un­con­sciously they must be aiming at some kind of vi­ol­ence when they plan a weapon, and they could just as easily be in­vent­ing some­thing useful and be­ne­fi­cial to human­ity. And we could
be giving a healthy direc­tion to the in­stinctual drives in­stead of cre­at­ing a pent up danger through dis­tor­tion and sub­merging of the hered­it­ary urges.

  Since the edu­ca­tional in­stitu­tions tend to per­petu­ate them­selves and seem to be in­dis­tin­guish­able from free­dom and demo­cracy one must over­come a feel­ing of ex­treme dis­loy­alty to cri­ti­cise its found­a­tions. Just as a parent re­tains a feel­ing of sub­mis­sion when enter­ing a school build­ing or talk­ing to a teach­er. But there are al­tern­at­ives, and there should be as many dif­fer­ent types of schools as there are com­mun­it­ies. Per­haps we needed a ho­mo­gen­eous system to draw to­gether our large country into a work­able whole, but now it is out­moded and detri­mental to a cre­at­ive thriv­ing people.

  The great archi­tect Le Corbusier, who was ap­pren­ticed to archi­tects, but never went to school past the age of 13½ wrote, “The schools are the product of 19th century theories. In a time of com­plete up­heaval they have, with their dip­lo­mas, of­fi­cially ap­plied the brake. They have killed archi­tec­ture.” And I would add they kill and dull and maim in­numer­able minds in every field.

  While schools might be varied there are some basic musts for any school that aims at giving the stu­dents self-esteem, and a feeling of achieve­ment.

  1.  Schools must be small. I would say between 50 and 300 stu­dents, ob­vi­ously you can­not get an organic com­mun­ity in the large prison-like struc­tures we now have.

  The ideal en­viron­ment is one that the stu­dents can mod­ify. One of the bar­riers against change is the excuse it will cost money. This however is easily breached. There are tene­ments going beg­ging to any­one who will take them off the land­lords’ hands, and man­sions left to estates that would be charit­ably given. Con­sider­ing the tre­mend­ous cost of the huge build­ings we now put up, a change-over would be relat­ively eco­nom­ical. The build­ings should be small and un­import­ant. New build­ings or old they should be so un­import­ant that they invite change—of the space, colour, wall. They should allow for ex­peri­menta­tion and each new group of stu­dents should be en­cour­aged to mod­ify their sur­round­ings to suit them­selves. This in­cludes being messy, splash­ing or splat­ter­ing paint, making murals on the floor, stars on the ceiling, any­thing. We have a fetish about being neat and set up ar­bit­rary ideas, this alone makes us angry inside. All chil­dren have their own sense of order, and it is very dif­fer­ent at dif­fer­ent stages.

  Groups of boys could learn con­struc­tion to­gether and with today’s mobil­ity they could meet from the sub­urbs and city. The boys who will go off to col­lege to become archi­tects and the boys wo will go into con­struc­tion trades. There is a nest­ing urge in us and most im­port­ant are the stu­dents who will con­struct for the sheer delight a man takes in build­ing, re­pair­ing and seeing what their hands can produce. Archi­tects moan because their clients don’t want or ap­preci­ate good form, or the joy of a beauti­ful wood. A boy who has worked with lumber and had the feel of lumber would de­mand good ma­terials and work­man­ship when he buys a house. In ad­di­tion all of the stu­dents should
be in­volved in making the en­viron­ment. If they feel they have some con­trol over their en­viron­ment they will de­mand, not ignore better city plan­ning, and will not allow de­struc­tion of what is beauti­ful whether made by man or nature. But this in­sight can­not come about through books—it can only be learned through the handling of space and ma­ter­ials.

  2.  There must be no grades. The grad­ing system is de­struct­ive and has no pos­it­ive value.

  The chil­dren from the most eco­nom­ically de­prived areas are hu­mili­ated by being pitted against the aver­ages of others who have been trained from nursery school in the tech­niques for suc­cess in school. Haven’t these chil­dren feel­ings, sens­it­iv­ity like any others? For 12 years we tell them they aren’t good enough. But good enough in what? In writ­ing a paper, organ­ising words found in refer­ence books? Pas­sing tests with symbols not under­stood, put­ting down these words they don’t under­stand. I could quote from Tolstoy, Goethe, Plato, Pavlov, Thoreau, Ruskin, Kierke­gaard all to the point that words are the most super­fi­cial level of learn­ing. Herbert Read writes, “It is not merely that we have dis­guised our feel­ings as symbols, but what in ef­fect we have done is to ac­cept a limited number of symbols as an ad­equate ac­count of the total real­ity, and what escapes our con­scious­ness is what ulti­mately des­troys us, in­di­vidually in the form of in­san­ity, so­cially in the form of war”.

  The stu­dent work­ing with his com­plete self, without pres­sure of time, who de­velops his own project will know how he is doing, he will judge himself. If he makes poor choices he knows even­tually where it doesn’t work, and will pro­gress. If his work is care­fully kept, valued and re­spected—never marked on and written on—if it is kept in order his pro­gress will be easy to see, and he will evalu­ate it himself. He begins to value himself if the work he does is valued and re­spected (and if it is de­graded, he is de­graded). If he is pleased he will have a tre­mend­ous desire to share what he’s learned. This is a natural human need. We negate the need to share know­ledge with our system of com­peti­tion. The child who has the desire to give, and the op­portun­ity to give will be able to take in other areas.

  What a cross we have given each child to bear. Those who feel in­ad­equate because they can­not hope to com­pete, and the stu­dent who has man­aged to please the teach­ers feels guilty because he has cheated himself.

  3.  A fluid Cur­riculum. The cur­riculum may be stim­u­lated by the teacher, but should be planned by the stu­dents within a very loose time struc­ture.

  There should be regional dif­fer­ences in courses. Why shouldn’t the special prob­lems re­lating to an area or culture group be dis­cussed, probed, evalu­ated in depth? Why min­im­ise them in an overall story which we pre­tend is history? One of the im­port­ant aims of edu­ca­tion should be to give stu­dents some idea of who he is and where he came from. The Puritans have no im­medi­ate rel­ev­ance to the prob­lems con­front­ing a negro stu­dent whose family is sup­ported by ADC, but he
could cer­tainly under­stand a dis­cus­sion about his pos­i­tion in our so­ciety polit­ically and eco­nom­ically. He could under­stand evolu­tion and sur­vival of the fittest, as well as the idea of the in­di­vidual cell being part of a total whole, a com­mun­ity. He would have some­thing to say about morals and ethics in our so­ciety. We have human­ists, psy­chi­at­rists, an­thro­po­lo­gists who could help with Sem­inars and projects with these stu­dents (and all stu­dents probing their back­ground). And from ex­peri­ence I know it would be re­cip­rocal, the pro­fes­sionals would find them­selves learn­ing things from the stu­dents.

  It is the last time most of them will be in school and there is no more im­port­ant know­ledge we can give them than some in­sight into their emo­tions, into the prob­lems they are con­fused and worried about. Why can’t we be truth­ful with them and let them dis­cuss and probe into the areas that bother all of us? Using the same method as used in group therapy they could find out they are not carry­ing fears that are unique with them, but are com­mon. Fears of homo­sexu­al­ity, dis­turb­ing dreams and emis­sions, family rela­tion­ships full of ten­sion. Why lie and call the Oedipus drama theatre when it is a myth dram­at­ising the rela­tion­ships within every family?

  Our ad­vert­ising tends to glor­ify in a glow of per­fec­tion lovers, wives, mothers. It makes the aver­age person fell in­ad­equate and a fail­ure in their real life situ­a­tion. How much better the old fairy tales of queens who were jealous of the princess, brother against brother, and chil­dren being put out of their house by their parents (re­jected) like Hansel and Gretal. It is the last time they will be in school where they can learn the real dance we all go through, and per­haps some bad family pat­terns can be broken and some in­sight given into the com­pul­sions that deter­mine who we marry.

  Every sub­ject studied is actu­ally to find out Who we are, Why we are here. Psy­cho­logy and reli­gion are at the basis of every sub­ject studied whether it be chem­istry, litera­ture, history or bio­logy. At the basis of all our studies is our search to find out what our life really is, and if we treated sub­jects from this view­point what sub­ject could be boring? But in the present cur­riculum each sub­ject pom­pously parades as an end in itself.

  But learn­ing should not be em­phas­ised as a verbal pro­cess. Art ma­terials, drama, music, dance should be the most im­port­ant part of the school. In the cre­at­ive pro­cess the stu­dent reaches into himself for per­cep­tions. He learns to see and feel for himself. Forms take shapes par­ticular to him, and feel­ings will not be sub­lim­ated to become the breed­ing ground of hates. A person who can work through his feel­ings and rela­tion­ships in the art mediums does not have resent­ments that fester in him. He de­velops con­fid­ence because every line he has put down or every move­ment he has made is a part of himself and he sees the pro­gress and achieve­ment that comes from his own at­tempts. He should feel satis­fac­tion and be re­laxed after each day at school. Now stu­dents speed out of school after five hours of being pent-up, and ten­sions are set up that are never re­leased.

  4.  Human Rela­tion­ships: When you think of a great teacher you think of someone who is ex­cited about a par­ticular field, and has a strong view­point. Ideally the teacher should be hired because she has a love and ex­cite­ment for a sub­ject, in­stead of a desire to teach in general. Her pre­par­a­tion should be in her field and the edu­ca­tional system should be set up so that she con­tinues to work in it in con­junc­tion with teach­ing. In­stead of years of lesson plans, traffic plans, and cur­riculum plan­ning she can work out her methods and ways of teach­ing and handling the group by trial and error. Teach­ers should also be given a know­ledge of them­selves through psy­cho­logical help all through col­lege. The stu­dent must not become tools the teacher mani­pulates to satisfy her own weak­nesses. There should be some place the teacher could go at any time to dis­cuss his rela­tions to his stu­dents, and as a group the teach­ers should be able to talk over prob­lems.

  The teach­ers should lose their fear of having rela­tion­ships with pupils. At­tach­ments to teach­ers is one way of break­ing away from the family when he is not ready for the re­spons­ibil­it­ies in­volved in sexual rela­tion­ships. It has the element of sex but can be con­struct­ive and is a normal and healthy way of de­velop­ment.

  We don’t call it fas­cistic, but our school, teacher set-up has a strong element of fas­cism in it. The stu­dents shouldn’t be dic­tated to, they want to talk over their own ideas, the begin­nings of their own solu­tions, they want to make their own de­cisions, set their own goals.

  A teacher who is herself working on a pro­ject part of the day will auto­matic­ally show the pupil more by example than can be learned through any other teach­ing method. When there is a good rela­tion­ship the stu­dents tend to work out solu­tions to prob­lems that the teacher is struggling with, and she in­corpor­ates it into her own work. She re­fines the stu­dents’ ideas and in this way they both go forward. In a natural at­mo­sphere a group will de­velop between certain stu­dents and the teacher. If a teacher is right for them there is no reason she should be forced to stop at the end of a semester or year, and the stu­dents forced to re­ad­just to a new situa­tion. There is usually a break­ing point where the teacher and the group will be fin­ished with each other. At that point the group too might re­ar­range itself. We all know the feel­ing of being fin­ished with a friend who was really a teacher to us and sud­denly you know enough or had worked through the rela­tion­ship and it was over. If we con­tinu­ally break into activ­it­ies and rela­tion­ships before they are con­sum­mated we con­tribute to the frag­ment­a­tion that is a problem in our culture.

  Every time a vari­a­tion on our edu­ca­tion is broached you get the re­sponse there aren’t enough teach­ers avail­able. Poppy­cock, there just aren’t enough diplomas. Every­where there are people who come into small schools and give a little of them­selves. Who would be glad to give of their time, for the pleasure they would have being needed for them­selves. Doctors, lawyers, mer­chants, chiefs. The school hours could be flex­ible to enable the stu­dents and teach­ers to take ad­vantage of the hours that can be given to them. When per­sonal rela­tion­ships de­velop between stu­dents and “re­source person” ap­prentice­ships could
de­velop. Work­ing as an ap­prentice a few days a week or a few hours a day would be a way for stu­dents to sample the real at­mo­sphere of a pro­fes­sion, or to just par­take of the adult world as he feels ready.

  Jane Addams knew what Tolstoy meant when he said we spread a “Snare of pre­par­a­tion” before the young people’s feet, “hope­lessly en­tangling them in a curious in­activ­ity at the very period of life when they are long­ing to con­struct the world anew and to con­form it to their own ideals”. We deaden their in­tuit­ive abil­it­ies.

  There is another source for teach­ers that we neglect, and that is the stu­dent himself. An ex­cited stu­dent wants to share what he has learned, and there should be a con­stant inter­change between the stu­dents all day long. The idea that sterile silence is the best en­viron­ment for edu­ca­tion is false. How does a stu­dent know that he has really learnt some­thing unless he tries to pass on that know­ledge in his own way while he is still in­volved in it? In a new book on edu­ca­tion by a lead­ing au­thor­ity it was sug­gested that the stu­dents each have their own cubicle for study­ing. We are alien­ated, frag­mented, isola­ted in the words of psy­cho­lo­gists today. Why not let the stu­dents grow up in an at­mo­sphere of friend­ship, rela­tion­ships, and aware­ness of each other?