There was once a time when I didn’t understand the meaning of “living in a system”. Of course, I had often heard the world and society in which we live in being referred to “the system” and how people want to “escape” such system, but for a long time I didn’t understand what it was or, more so, why you would want to escape it.
I think it was probably around the time I first heard the quote “we are all living in a cage that’s too large to see” that it struck me what this system is, and how obvious it is that we’re living within the constraints of one.
We are born and then after about four years of learning to speak and walk and such, we spend a quarter of our lives in education in order to get a job which we will spend the rest of life working in just to afford life’s basics: food, clothing, shelter. And, then, we will die. Unfortunately, of all of these inevitable stages, that one is the one we cannot, under any circumstance, escape.
I’ve spent a long time waiting to get out of education, under the pretense that that’s when my life is really going to begin; I can be free. But it’s not the kind of freedom I’d want. It’s freedom governed by rules and regulations and social conformities.
I have it in me to defy the conformities and restrictions put in place by society – I have no problem with that – but it’s not a simple matter of just having society’s attitudes to deal with.
If I were to run away, perfectly safe, to start a new life, the likelihood is that I would be considered a missing person and the peaceful life that I had hoped for would be spent running and hiding. I’d be forced to entirely reinvent myself just for a little bit of peace.
Some might argue that we are free, because we are granted certain freedoms. That in itself is absurd, that we are not free to decide which freedoms we are allowed. We have a freedom of speech, but how free is this speech?
Let’s take, for example, the opposition of a government: If a person opposed to abortion, they are legally allowed to get up close to a women and shout abuse at them on their way into a clinic because the first amendment to the United States Constitution protects the freedom of speech but you ought to be careful about protesting against police brutality or the murder of a black man because you’re likely to have tear gas fired at you. Likewise, you can expect police brutality and a media blackout if you ever start a peaceful march in opposition to a government that the majority of the country opposed to and a political system as unfair as “first past the post”.
There are expectations of you the moment you are born. You are expected to get a job and marry, you buy a house and you conceive and bring up your 2.5 children. This is a box that restricts you automatically because it is what is expected and if you deviate from these expectations then you are considered abnormal and often outcast. This is, to me, the very definition of a capitalist society: the working class governed by the upper. Likewise, the education system teaches us to be just as robotic. From a student’s perspective, I have grown to hate education despite the fact that I love to learn. This is because education has seemingly become a form of propaganda, existing to produce uniformity and conformity.
Before I continue, I’d like to make it very clear that I do not consider all teachers or educators as a part of this system I talk of. In fact, I’ve come across many a teacher who I have great admiration and respect for because I believe they truly value their student’s happiness and quality of learning.
The example I use most often to express my largest concern for the education system is the fact that in 2012 I made the decision to continue learning Spanish and studying it for GCSE. I made this decision based on the fact that I desperately wanted to learn the language. I didn’t go into the subject with the false pretense that I would leave school being fluent, but I expected to know more than I know now, at least. The problem is, we weren’t taught the language. Well, of course, we were in the way that we weren’t taught French or German, but I mean we were taught what we needed to pass the exam. Likewise, I’ve experienced the same thing in my other subjects. I owe a lot to my Spanish teacher for veering away from the curriculum to teach us more of the foundations of the language because, I’m sure, without that, I’d be a lot less fluent than I would be otherwise. This begs the question: what’s the point in having a qualification in GCSE Spanish if I’m not even close to being fluent in the language? We are taught that having qualifications is more important than having knowledge. Education is restricting our learning, as Mark Twain observed: “Don’t let your education get in the way of your learning.” The current way the system works means that young people’s creativity and opinions and restricted and suppressed at an early age. Furthermore, all students are tested and branded under the same conditions. A kinetic learner is tested in the same way as a visual and an audible learner are and they are all tested by the same criterias. The reduction of people’s abilities to grades and numbers is absurd. Like Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Student activists are becoming more and more common. People, like me, are noticing the corruption of these systems and protesting, rallying and working to make a change. It’s unfortunate to say that I’ve seen a considerable number of adults devaluing the work of such students. The most popular comment I’ve seen to be repeated by adults is that students are “sheltered”, “spoiled”, “ungrateful” and should wait until they reach the “real world”. I fear that these adults underestimate the insights that students have and consider them to be more naive than they really are. Whilst it could be argued that the working world is far tougher than the world within education, there are few people who can make this comparison. The way the education system works is far different to the way it was thirty years back or, even, ten years ago, and is being experienced by teenagers who are at the most vulnerable stages of their lives. The working-world and the educational-world are not directly comparable.
Let’s consider, for example, the recent survey that focused on suicidal behaviour among 313 high school students in the Midwest. The survey found that, of all the students who participated in the study, 62.6% reported some degree of suicidal thoughts or action, including 8.4% who had actually made a suicide attempt. The rise in depression and suicide rates among teenagers are likely to be caused by a number of factors, yet it’s far too naive too imagine that school is not one of them.
Students, in general, are likely to come home depressed, angry and exhausted, often despite whether or not they attend the best schools in the country or not. There is something profoundly wrong with the way that these schools and this education system works.
Michael Grant is not a teacher or a student but a parent, and he stated in a social media post that it’s “the regimentation, the testing obsession, the college application pressure, the dragging kids out of bed at 7 AM, high school kids working 10 hour days by the time they’re done with homework, the fact that there isn’t even any minimal co-ordination on homework to keep teachers from all piling on at once” that makes him believe the education system is wrong. He goes on to add that “I get paid to do what I do, and I control my own schedule, and I use cigars, caffeine and alcohol to take the edge off a work day that is shorter and easier than what my kids endure. I don’t do half the work [son] does.” The truth is, at thirteen we are making decisions that impact every other major decision in our lives: what subjects we take at college, and then university, which effects which jobs we get. The pressure piled onto the backs of young students is immense, especially if you consider the fact that the teenage years are considered the most vulnerable as it is the time at which your mind and body are developing.
So we live in a system that creates other, just-as-menacing systems, and we seem doomed to stay bound by these chains for as long as we may live. That’s a pretty defeatist attitude and I guess a pretty depressing statement, but maybe it’s true. Maybe the only way to make a difference is by exercising our opinions and exposing – but not necessarily forcing – our views to others. If you’re sitting and reading this post (which I am very grateful for) and you have an opinion – whether it opposes to mine or not – I’d love to hear it, so please leave it in the comments. After all, if we don’t speak, we’ll never be heard.