"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Conformity? It's the purpose of education

I remember a punk rock group when the genre first became well-known, that sang "I hate the bloody queen." British, of course.
When I was a kid a British accent seemed to be associated with sophistication. It's just an accent of course. The punk rockers did a good job discouraging that stereotype.
As with much pop music, this was the voice of the frustrated masses (though a long way from Woody Guthrie). Soon after the line about the queen came: "She makes me go to school!"
Do kids still hate going to school?
Maybe the boomers, now that we're parents, have made it a little more warm and fuzzy. I suspect a lot of kids have just learned to act like they enjoy school.
Why might kids hate school to the point they'd want to take it out on "the queen?"
"The reason kids hate school is that the purpose of school is to prepare them for a world of work that they will find unpleasant much of the time," I heard a cultural analyst say once.
When I was a kid and the school closing announcement came over the radio on a bad weather day, KMRS Radio would then play "That's what happiness is."
Nothing subtle about that statement.
In the early '70s the education establishment was forced to inspect its naval because of the prevailing tumult. There was a mantra out there of "let's not conform." Conformity had led America down some dubious paths, we were told.
It was a correct assertion but what could this mean for formal education?
The education establishment tried to pretend it was on board with the conformity-bashing. But it made no sense. Politics aside, the whole purpose of education is to promote conformity.
The whole idea is to mold young people delicately but also with a firm hand so there is a common grasp of principles that enables them to live together.
It's a glue of civilization.
So the question isn't whether school will promote conformity. Because that's all school does. The question is, what direction will our kids be pointed in?
Educators are great for saying "critical analysis" needs to be instilled in kids. Kids are often dragged through swill in reading assignments because "we need to teach them to think critically."
Most often I smell a condescending tone in such statements. I can't help but think teachers just want to steer kids toward a world view like their own. It's a world view with political overtones.
I'm not terribly worried because these kids become adults with an independent streak of thinking anyway.
School represents society's desire to have kids get adapted to the rigors, discipline and yes, even tedium of the workplace. It's very primal, to instill civilization.
To throw off conformity? It was only a fad. Fads come and go in education. Remember "outcome based education?"
George W. Bush brought us "teaching to the test." Why should a school even offer music and art if these aren't going to help kids on their essential tests?
Why would Bush have the Federal government impose itself in such a firm way with education, where I would assume that Republicans would want maximum local control?
I hope kids are taught about the disingenuous nature of politics.
School is a model of the world outside. Kids are put through exercises that have structure and require self-discipline to handle and complete. The intrinsic value of many of these exercises may be nil. And yes, I do have an example.
I was driving the company van once and listening to the always-observant (and maybe a little verbose) Don Shelby on the radio. He was talking about "language immersion." It turns out, the only way to really learn to speak a foreign language is to do so via "immersion."
If you're learning French, you should do so in a classroom where the only language allowed is French. You plunge in and slowly develop a grasp.
Shelby's segment on his WCCO program that day vindicated me. Because I remembered being hopelessly bored and lost in French class at MHS which was not immersion-style. It was a standard French class of the time. Shelby remembered a family member of his who went through classes like that, fruitlessly.
"She could conjugate verbs like mad. But she couldn't speak French," Shelby said.
Oh, conjugating verbs. I bristled.
Sitting in that classroom, I was like that punk rocker with my feelings about school. We had headphones at our disposal in those classes - high tech for its time. The school could trumpet those resources. But I couldn't speak French.
Classes of that kind were just exercises in instilling discipline - following marching orders. The purpose was never to really learn to speak French. The designers of these classes must have known that.
But they mapped things out so we'd have to plow through a structured body of learning. This is how we would find the world of work, as adults, in many respects: You learn a routine that is tedious in many ways but you endure it.
The tech revolution has wiped away a lot of the old tedium. The whole purpose of tech is to get from point 'A' to 'B' in the most practical fashion - no unnecessary or superfluous hurdles.
So along comes "immersion" and language camps that employ it. Now, the idea of taking a foreign language is to actually learn to speak that language. How refreshing.
All that conjugation was just hell. It was imposed on us as an exercise in conformity, in just swimming through a body of knowledge. We built self-discipline. Maybe I didn't but many of my peers did.
I had enough of a grasp of writing that I would get through school on the strength of that. I got whacked on the back of the head by a teacher at MHS once. But I learned to forge ahead. I learned to use words.
Words can be far more powerful than violence. John Stossel recalls being bullied as a kid and eventually becoming a journalist partly so he could "turn the cameras back on the bullies."
I understand fully. It's a jungle out there. I might hate "the bloody queen" too if we had one. We had Dick Nixon which was close.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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