Valedictorian Calls Out U.S. School System, Brainwashed Students, Herself

We might be a little late on this, but hopefully not. As reported by SwiftKick Central:

Last month, Erica Goldson graduated as valedictorian of Coxsackie-Athens High School. Instead of using her graduation speech to celebrate the triumph of her victory, the school, and the teachers that made it happen, she channeled her inner Ivan Illich and de-constructed the logic of a valedictorian and the whole educational system.

You should definitely add SwiftKick Central to your RSS feed. Erica put her speech on Sign of the Times. Here it is in its entirety:

There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, “If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years . .” The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast — How long then?” Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.” “But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?” asked the student. “Thirty years,” replied the Master. “But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?” Replied the Master, “When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.”

This is the dilemma I’ve faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn’t you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.

I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I’m scared.

John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, asserts, “We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids into truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. But we don’t do that.” Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt.

H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not “to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. … Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim … is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States.”

To illustrate this idea, doesn’t it perturb you to learn about the idea of “critical thinking.” Is there really such a thing as “uncritically thinking?” To think is to process information in order to form an opinion. But if we are not critical when processing this information, are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth?

This was happening to me, and if it wasn’t for the rare occurrence of an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan, who allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, I would have been doomed. I am now enlightened, but my mind still feels disabled. I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this ostensibly sane place really is.

And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.

We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special, so aren’t we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.

The saddest part is that the majority of students don’t have the opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can’t run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be – but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.

For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, do not be disheartened. You still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical, and create your own perspective. Demand a setting that will provide you with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it. Demand that you be interested in class. Demand that the excuse, “You have to learn this for the test” is not good enough for you. Education is an excellent tool, if used properly, but focus more on learning rather than getting good grades.

For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake.

For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth.

So, here I stand. I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. I was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. I couldn’t have accomplished this without all of you. It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of you who were my competition, yet my backbone. In that way, we are all valedictorians.

I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, those who maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me, but I hope this farewell is more of a “see you later” when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. But first, let’s go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we’re smart enough to do so!

If you follow my tumblr, you’ve possibly seen a few quotes from an article I enjoyed on Salon.com called The Fantasy of the Vast Upper Middle Class: College isn’t for everyone. Neither is the stock market, which is also definitely worth a read if you’ve got the stamina and VERY RELATED.

You may also recall our recent discussion on the value of college education last month.

What’s your take on this speech? Kickass or ignorant or #firstworldproblems? Is there something fundamentally flawed about how we view and construct public education in America, or how we assign or predict status? (Aside from the primary problem of underfunding and savage inequalities, which is a whole different conversation AND ONE OF MY FAVORITES IF YOU WANNA CHAT ABOUT IT SOME TIME.)

If you’re from another country, how do you feel about your educational system? Do you think Erica was biting the hand that feeds her, or speaking necessary truths? It’s Monday and there’s a long line at Office Max, so just stay here and talk to us.

HOW DO YOU FEEL, KITTENS?

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109 Comments

  1. wowow, my life right there. i am pretty much an expert test-taker and know exactly how i have to prep for academics. because the system is such that it can be taken advantage of. lately however i’ve been realising that my creativity is pretty much non-existant, and that it was not always like this – like everything else, it requires practice. parallel to this is the realisation that people who make change or actually achieve things are those who are imaginative and have different ideas e.g. autostraddle!

    so i can definitely vouch for australia being in the same boat – at least my high school, supposedly achieving the best grades in the country, turns out mostly hordes of doctors, accountants, lawyers just following the corporate flow. SO BORING. complacent labour force is right.

    also coxsackie A is a virus, apropos of nothing

  2. FUCK YEAH.

    Before my current incarnation as The Merch Girl, I was a passionate advocate for alternative education in Malaysia. The system there is an absolute travesty, the best example of “training to be a test-taker”. No creativity or critical thinking if it falls outside allowable Government standards. Propaganda masquerading as curricula. Textbooks decades old. And by the end of it you get students who think it’s the End of the World if you don’t get an A, who cry for ages if they don’t get a scholarship to Medicine (it’s always Medicine), who have no idea how to be flexible or create a life for themselves. Everything’s based around your grades in certain nationwide exams. Your wellbeing counts for NOTHING. You are not a person, you are grade cattle.

    I greatly envy the American and Australian school system because it seems to allow for a lot more creativity and flexibility. Eduactional camps! Coursework and projects instead of rote exams! travel! Interesting subjects! It’s taken me a long while to accept that I’ll never have my school years back and will never get a chance to re-do them somehow. School were the worst years of my life – not just because the education system was mind-numbing (I learnt more from books & the Internet and was often years ahead of my classmates just because I bothered to have an interest) but also because it was a racist system perpetuated by authorities (I’m an uber-minority) which didn’t care about your mental health needs or interests or personal nature. Just whether you could score – or, in my case, whether I could score without upsetting the Malays too much.

    A few years after finishing school I went back to tell my juniors about life after school. It was a talk I’d never heard presented in my 11+ years of schooling; I remember proposing it to one of my teachers only to be laughed at. While I was there I told a room of 16-17 year olds frankly and off-the-cuff about how there are a world of opportunities after school, how exam grades are overrated, about how you’re not going to be damned if you get a Fail let alone a B, that you can always change your mind. The students CHEERED. This was the FIRST time they’ve had someone tell them this. (And we’re kinda bad at paying attention to speakers.) The teachers glared at me from the back of the hall because I was basically undoing what they’ve done for years, but I had so many juniors ask me for contacts and advice, and some of them have reported back to me years later talking about how they pursued their passions or explored other options are are much happier for it.

    More of my 3 years or rantage/advocacy/writing on this subject: http://educatedeviate.wordpress.com

  3. this girl is a badass. our education system places all of its emphasis on the wrong things. unfortunately my class was full of kids who only wanted to know what would be on the next test. obama had just been elected, and all they ever wanted to talk about what would be on the a.p exams. i don’t blame them, i was just so frustrated that the kids who were deemed the smartest by the system couldn’t really carry a conversation about any social issues, nor did they really have an actual opinion about anything. and honestly i know why they were all so concerned about scores. a lot of them couldn’t afford college, so high ranking would be the only way they could afford to go. it’s all so effed up, and as a future educator, i really hope they replace the whole standardized testing. because this “no child left behind” policy left everyone high and dry :(

  4. Oh, yes. This is my life. I am in my mid-twenties now and ONLY. STARTING. to undo all the harm this shit did to me. I am smart and I got the highest possible grade in every standardised exam I took in school, but those two things are not related. All the other ways I am intelligent and creative and good at stuff and able to actually contribute something and enjoy life got completely discarded in favour of pen and paper and figuring out exactly what they wanted from me, then doing it. I am the undisputed champion of the mark scheme.

    I got the highest possible result in my degree, and I have absolutely no idea what to do with my life. I want to change the world and I have no idea how because I have no idea what I can actually do of value that isn’t written on a test paper. Something went wrong somewhere along the way. I’m going to fix it, though. It’s just taking a while.

    • i agree wholeheartedly with EVERYTHING you say here. this is exactly my life. EXACTLY. i worked hard at school and university and got excellent grades, but i honestly learned nothing of value. i can’t even really remember what classes / subjects i studied. now i’m having some sort of insane early mid-life crisis at 26 because i have no idea what to do. it’s comforting to hear i’m not the only one, because i do not understand how nobody told me this was going to happen. surely we’re not the first?

    • I am right there with all of you! I worked so hard through high school and college and now what? It’s been four years since I graduated with a degree in something useless and I still have no idea what I want to do with my life.

      I’ve also realized that I started forming real opinions of things only a couple of years ago. Like it took detox time to get rid of the mold that held me in for so long.

      On the bright side, I now have a glimmer of hope for the next generation.

    • Totally. Feel. All. Of. You.

      I actually dropped out of college my senior year with depression when it finally hit me that I wasn’t using any of my intellectual or creative potential in life (and that I didn’t know the first thing about my sexuality but that’s another story I know you all understand).

      Three years later I still have no idea where my life is going, but feel good and lucky that I’ve done some of the soul searching work that needed to be done and had the opportunity to do so. Now I’m just scared most of the time, no idea what to do with myself. Anyone want to join a rock band with me?

  5. I have so many feelings about this.

    The Norwegian school system has many faults, but is very different from the American system. In the US, grades are see-trough, numbers on a page, points on a scale, accumulated though homework, tests and extra credit. Standardization and multiple-choice. Multiple-choice makes grading fair and simple, it leaves no room for interpretation, for showing understanding. It hasn’t realized that when and how is only a tool to understand why. Knowing the facts is of no great use in itself, a book or a bullet point list can do the same. You need to know the facts so you can put them together in your mind, draw maps, take them apart and put them together differently. You need the facts to draw a conclusion, to have an opinion, but we never get there, because the conclusion has become a fact, a truth, an alternative on a test, and your opinion only matters if your current paper demands it.

    Norwegian grades are not see-though. They’re simple, but not fair. They’re given, not calculated. They leave room for discussions and alternative interpretation of the subject matter, but they also leave room for interpretation of the teacher. Norwegian students do terrible on standardized tests, but do well when they get to university. In a Norwegian school, you learn how to take “responsibility for your own learning”. In reality, this means your grades depend on how resourceful you parents are. I’m lucky. My parents have PhDs and told me to play sports and music, to draw and paint, to not spend time reading my homework if I wanted to read something else. They gave me the vocabulary to discuss the political, economical, philosophical and ethical theories they thought me. They gave me the tools I needed to go to school and “be good.” Norwegian schools are not about learning a subject, but knowing it.

    I have way more feelings, but constructing comprehendible English sentences to explain thoughts I haven’t put in order yet is exhausting.

  6. In many ways, my little brother was fucked over by the school system when he was a kid. Before he started school, he had actually figured out how to multiply and divide by playing with calculators. But by halfway through kindergarten, he was having trouble counting. It only got worse from there… he actually got put into the special education room for a day once because he asked the teacher too many awkward questions. o_O When my parents demanded they test him then, he was reading at a college level. He was in the third grade. He was bullied mercilessly – by both teachers and students. I don’t think it was until he got to eighth grade that school became something worthwhile in his life – and that’s because he got into an alternative junior high school.

    The disturbing thing to me is that now as I talk to my boss, who has a developmentally delayed child, I see a lot of the same bullshit being perpetrated against her. Basically if you fall on either side of average, you’re completely boned.

    This girl is freaking awesome and I want to buy her a cookie.

  7. I spent three years going to a private school in Texas, the only thing I learned was “hating is bad” and “subjects like politics, religion or social issues in a conversasion/school are off-limits”. Also, to be totally scared that the government was watching everything I did. But that was probably just me being me.

    Half my school life was actually spent going to school in my home country, Argentina. The educational system here is terrible, it changes every year. Right now, they teach aroung 16 susbjects a year. They create so many subjects with so much material that teachers stop caring or trying to teach anything and just hold strikes because of their low wages while students don’t care about anything at all ever; it’s terribly depressing to go to school here.
    The governmnet doesn’t want a working force, it doesn’t want anyone thinking or working at all. They want votes. To get them, they give away a couple of hundred bucks to those people that didn’t go to school/couldn’t complete school instead of giving them education and jobs. So they create a whole political party and following where nobody knows what they stand for, they just want the money to feed their kids, and they’ll know they’ll get it if they keep voting for these same people and going to the protests and announcing how great this government is.
    Meanwhile, the middle class is worried about being able to afford outragiously high taxes with crappy jobs so that the government can keep giving away money to those who should be getting an education and contributing somehow, still being able to afford to send their kids to a private school so their diploma is actually worth something and they won’t end up having to sell their soul to the government to get some food and also worry every time their kids go outside because they might get robbed, get the shit kicked out of them by the lower classes for being able to afford food and schooling (or, if we’re talking about girls, for being too pretty) or killed by someone who’s angry and wants to steal their shoes and cellphone.
    Kirchner is taking us to our doom at a very quick pace, while making it look to everyone on the outside like we’re perfectly fine.
    Also, no one here likes talking about it because it’s a cycle we’ll probably never break, and that is just so frustrating. It can drive someone (mainly, me) crazy.

    My favorite years of school were the year and a half I spent in Alberta, Canada. It was just so different. Way easier than here (which was a little crappy) but I got to choose what subjects to take and there’s so much freedom in that. I chose whatever I was interested in and actually! learned! things!

  8. This makes me want to copy and paste my own valedictorian address from 2003…it was the honest reflection of how I felt at the time–unbridled excitement for the years ahead, optimism and fervor for life during and after college, and full of totally naive faith in the system to reward me for all my hard work. My friends and fellow students loved my speech because they, too, believed that they lived in the world of possibilities where creativity was valued above corporate tedium and the endless quest for money.

    If I had known that, at 25, I’d be broke as a joke and side-lining all my creative writing projects because all my time is taken up with writing standardized test prep curriculum for a living (since it’s the only real-world applicable skill I have at this point–the irony!)…perhaps the speech would have come out a little differently.

  9. when i was preparing to write my valedictorian speech (just last may, & out of a class of 17 on a military base…so, yeah), my guidance counselor who was a really nice helpful lady otherwise, made sure i knew “graduation is no time for making big statements.” we had had a valedictorian only a year or two before who made a speech where she talked about how high school demands conformity & doesn’t allow you to explore your interests, & specifically that our school sucked extra bad because it was so small everyone was constantly breathing down your neck & talking shit, and everyone hated it because they liked being in a small pond where they could feel like the center of attention, i guess. my speech ended up being about making an attempt to not be so shitty to other people after high school & “do as you would have done unto you” etc. i felt like that girl from mean girls who doesn’t even GO here!

  10. well, I studied in the Belgian system, then British, then American and now Canadian system and I have to say honestly that the North American ones aren’t really good. But each systems have their flaws, I remember Belgian school we memorized so many things it was crazy! I still remember things that I might never use in my life but yeah I know them. What I really loved about the European systems though is that we got to learn much more about the world (maybe it’s that colonial thing oh and btw i’m not European) you get a better understanding of the world which has saved me from ever saying things like my American friend “oh you’re from Cambodia, where in China is it?” or “I want to go to Europe and then France”… you know things like that. All I have to say is that during my high school in the US I didn’t learn much, the Mathematics were for amateurs, so was the science, history quiet boring and lame ’cause I had learned that in 5th grade, there isn’t even geography course in high school (seriously you should look into that for a country that is so “multi-ethnic”)what I did like in the US school system was the activities, since I’m a big theatre junkie it was fun to get to be in plays and musicals. Belgian schools don’t really take that seriously they are more about intellect that talent. Anyways but that’s just my take on it so please don’t attack me because I’m sure there are other 3rd culture kids out there who experienced things differently.

  11. My high school censored my speech at graduation (I was salutatorian). I would not have been able to make this speech at my high school without being escorted off stage by security. That said, I think this speech eloquently states what one school did to one student, nor what all schools do to all students. This student chose to spend 100% of her time studying, and it’s unlikely that anyone forced her to do that extra credit. Plenty of the students I went to high school with dropped out to start work, mostly took “easy” technical classes because they cared more about playing music, or devoted more time to athletics and other extracurriculars than to schoolwork. Many of the dropouts, including a few close friends, spent much of their time reading and figured they could do that without a diploma.

    So yeah, I’d say tuis is a first-world-of-the-first-world problem. Not only do most students not have the same feelings about education, though many may not have enjoyed it, I think the author was privileged, perhaps by her intelligence, perhaps by virtue of the quality of her school, not to have to worry about dropping out in order to help support her family, and she was unlikely to hav been distracted from her studies by violence and gang activities at her school. Apologies if this is a bit garbled, my computer is having trouble with the text box for some reason.

  12. since we’re not talking about savage inequalities, i’ll just tell a story about the frustration that’s going on in my life right now with a disclaimer that i know i’m lucky because i’ve never felt shut out by bureaucracy up until now and i’ve had really excellent schooling because my parents could afford to live in good areas/send me to college/etc.

    right now, i’m being told that, despite having all the credits, i cannot graduate with a degree in spanish because i am going to spain next semester because the courses will have been taken out of order. when i sent a letter to a professor requesting permission to take certain classes abroad, i received an email saying it was completely inappropriate to make suggestions myself and it was up to the professors to make those decisions for me. i’m just not sure where there’s room in a university–or any school–to say “that’s just the way it is.”

    • This might be a little risky ’cause profs HATE it when you go above their heads, but try the Chair of the department and then the Dean of the school. Present your case in a “I’m just trying to understand what’s going on here, why can’t I do this, ps here are several very well reasoned arguments why I should be able to do this” way. Rules in academia are flexible, just be as squeaky of a wheel as you can be.

    • i was set to study abroad in Italy and was told that i couldn’t go, because the classes i would take there wouldn’t count towards my English degree as it would be “Italian literature in translation.” I contested this decision on the basis that it was ethnocentric, but to no avail. Ultimately decided it was a waste of money, I stayed in Michigan and watched my dumb boyfriend play beer pong.

    • I wasn’t able to go study in California for a year because “you have to be able to guarantee you’ll cover all the material we’ll cover in your absence”. Great, I said, what material will you cover in my absence? “We’re changing the syllabus for next year so we can’t really tell you that until term starts.” You mean when it’ll be far, far too late to set up a placement abroad? “Yup.”

      Fuck all of that. I should have just gone and been a hippy and worked it all out when I got back.

      • “Fuck all of that. I should have just gone and been a hippy and worked it all out when I got back.”

        sometimes (right now) i get really frustrated with school, and i get urges to just say “fuck it all” and become a blogger and sell jewelry outside the back of my van.

  13. This really resonated for me too. As a poet, I could really feel the system stomping on my passion.
    I had one really good teacher and one rogue (also really good) teacher that helped me sort of break the mold in high school. It was frustrating though because until that point… I had been trying to succeed and resisting conditioning and it was very difficult. The system sucks now.

  14. As a future educator, we know the problems with the public school systems. We know that the focus on testing is one of the absolute worst things we pound into students, starting at kindergarten.
    The problem is not with educators, it’s with politicians, who set all of the national standards. In order for teachers to keep our jobs, we have to teach to the test and make sure the students do well.

    Get the fucking politicians off your local school boards and vote former educators in. They know what’s really going on and will do whatever they can to better the future of your communities.

  15. I was not, and am not, the kind of person who can learn by rote and just regurgitate it.
    So, as has been said by a few posters before me, I didn’t follow the rules. I studied, yes, but the things I was interested in studying. I figured out the ‘tricks’ to get good grades without necessarily having to absorb things I didn’t want to know.

    Now people would say to this – why not just learn it – all knowledge is a good thing. Yes, sure, if you have the memory for it. But I’m a limited person – I have the memory of a gnat. If I remember when Mussolini was born, then I’m going to forget how to do partial derivatives. I’ve got limited space on the hard disk that is my brain.

    So a lot of school was spent avoiding learning some stuff , and honing in on the things I thought important to me. I made sure to do anything I needed for university (it was my only way out from a small town – being a gay and all)

    Some things did have to fall to the wayside – for example Music, which I’d spent about 10 years of my childhood on (cello mostly) – but I made a conscious decision when I was 15 that I had to concentrate on one of my great loves, and music lost, mathematics won!

    I was lucky, I suppose, to have a pretty good brain. I’m not knocking education (hey, I spent 25 years of my life getting educated. Ya don’t do a PhD for the hell of it, lol.) But if you want to truly succeed, I think it’s inate in you, and not something that educators can knock out of you. I believe it’s up to the student to take what they want/need out of the system, and discard the rest.

  16. 1. erica is my jam, immediately.

    2. i was a ROYAL pain in the ass in school b/c i kept shouting at everyone (on my tip toes) WHY THE EFF IS THIS AND WHY THE EFF IS THAT?! i learn really quickly so i would ace literally all of my tests but i skipped the homework b/c it bored me to tears and i preferred spending my free time making music and movies and plays and that did not go over very well at all.

    everyone got pissed. my teachers would call my mom about what i giant disappointment i was b/c of all of my wasted potential. so my mom heard me out and was like, “don’t sweat it. just pass your gd classes and get the eff out of there. that place is a joke anyway. ps, i really like that new song you’ve been banging out on the piano. keep it up.”

    the moral of the story is that my mom is awesome and the public education system in this country is a really big giant mess that is underfunded and therefore cannot always cater to different learning styles appropriately.

    the end.

  17. KICK ASS. Yes.

    I had a slight freak out earlier this summer after seeing my senior friends graduate because I (now about to be a senior) am not planning on writing an honors thesis and therefore will not get to graduate with honors and wear a cord around my neck on graduation. A pretty yellow cord. Basically, a piece of string. Wtf. Why does that matter? My hope for myself is that next year, most likely my final year in the school system, I can do my best not to focus on grades and honors / freak out about them so much and just enjoy myself and LEARN. (not that I haven’t had some wonderful learning for the sake of learning experiences in college but I have also had a lot of for the grades/credit experience).

    and yes this is a problem of the privileged, there are terrible inequalities etc, but hey, still, I think it is a problem.

    • And I will expand upon that slightly by saying I know my perfectionist, must get good grades before all else tendencies were learned at a very young age. And very, very solidified in an NYC, public specialized high school. Sure I had some great teachers (and have always been very lucky to be able to go to great schools — or at least schools that are supposed to be great) but still.

  18. Brave and inspiring but we need more people like her cos the system is just too established. Still, I could only hope this inspired another mind and put that inspiration to work.

    • that’s really the only book anyone should ever be required to read, like as soon as they learn how to read in school — “hey good job learning how to read. NOW READ THIS and do something about the people who may never know how, and please spend the rest of your life thinking at least once a day about how you can help fix this in some small way.”

  19. OMG I totally love this girl. You guys should actually be lucky your school system is good compared to the one in Germany. But I really don’t get why they won’t step up their game.In Spain and the Netherlands they have really good school systems why can’t big countrys like the US or Germany learn from them?I learned so much more from the web in the last 3 years than I ever learned from the last 5 years of school.Sad Fact!

  20. I am always heartened to be offered mention of Ivan Ilich. School is, of course, just the beginning of the indoctrination into some sort of slavery, whether it is to pay a mortgage or to pay off college loans or damn credit cards. Erica nailed it and in doing so she demonstrates that she is also a product of a remarkable education as it is.

    What disappoints her is the failed promise that learning (and therefore school) is the gateway to becoming a fulfilled human being nurtured to be creative, innovative or reflective. My question would be where does this promise come from? Is it in the tantalizing literature, art and history offered in school as the finest that our culture has to offer? Is it in the stories of greatness exemplified by the bravery of our founding fathers or the greatness of an author who becomes immortalized as a classic?

    School makes sure that students compete for grades (and later money) in order to go forth and become what is accepted as success. Is Erica willing to pay the price of being able to nurture her pursuit of knowledge, art or truth which may well be a marginal existence at poverty level? The assumption here is that fulfilling our need for truth and goodness will be rewarded with the power to change society. Power in our capitalist society is wielded by money. To change that does one learn to live without money or become part of the system and try to decide which leg to cut off in order to become a more just society?

    I think Erica has a good chance of reconciling this dilemma. It depends what she chooses to do next. Meanwhile I’m glad that our own Autowin has bargained successfully enough to remain here to present this question.

  21. I have a lot of complex feelings about this that I probably won’t articulate well due to sleep deprivation, but a few things…

    My #1 feeling reading this was #firstworldproblems
    We all deserve to follow our passion and throw off the shackles of motivation for financial gain… Congrats on being part of the world that has an opportunity to care about following your passion instead of just surviving. Made me think of how different the answers were when people in NY v. people in India were asked “What do you want to do before you die?”

    But we do live in the “first world” (don’t anyone tell my IR advisor I used that term, it’s only to keep with the hash tag!) and just because our problems fall at the top of Maslow’s pyramid (hey-o I had to learn that for a test!) doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be evaluated.

    So my #2 feeling is: the system is broke and needs lots of changes across the board, but for I don’t agree that “The saddest part is that the majority of students don’t have the opportunity to reflect as I did.” For one that tone struck me as a bit condescending to her classmates, but also because I find it sadder how many students leave schools without solid enough writing, reading, math and finance abilities to manage their own lives and livelihoods effectively.

    It’s complex, because schools do need to train for a workplace to an extent. Passion needs a skill set to go with it. And I don’t really know where this country she would’ve run off to is- many countries use testing to determine whether you continue on with higher studies or go on to an even more work-focused study.

    It’s also difficult to comment because experiences vary so widely between schools. Personally I felt like I had an excellent public high school and teachers who encouraged students to pursue their passions. My biggest 20-something what to do now problem is more for me a feeling that I’m prepared to chat about Camus and Roman architecture, but I could have really done with MORE workplace preparation as I feel like I need more understanding of business environments.

    The part where I do agree is that uniformity is a big part of the problem. Not because I think we’re being brainwashed into identical worker bees, but because in our effort to ensure quality across schools we are setting standards that are failing to address the spectrum of student needs while not even effectively ensuring the basics are learned.

    For example, rather than the bulk of an English course being outlined by the books that should be read and pulling teeth to get students to the end of each classic, make a larger part of the curriculum student-chosen. Would we rather students actually read or memorize a list of quotes and symbolism in the Great Gatsby without any interest in actually opening the book?

    Teachers are discouraged from innovation and responding to immediate student needs. Which is funny, because in our capitalist-driven system of business, innovation and flexibility are key, right? I mean, can you imagine a business that is operated by a couple hundred people outside of the business voting on the year’s business plan (as legislators do for setting state curriculums) and then demanding it be adhered to no matter what changes in market demand are observed in the fall?

    History and math are the areas I felt that teaching to test standards were the most limiting in my education. The practical applications of learning math were listed on a poster in the classroom. “You need algebra to do all kinds of things!” and I remember that the list included funeral home director because that’s motivating? But assignments never showed a functional use for x+y=500 etc.

    And history was more concerned that I memorize names and dates than understand what happened. I had great teachers that tried to make lectures and assignments fill in that gap, but at the end of the year their performance and mine was evaluated on whether I remembered the year the Civil War began (I don’t). Until AP World History which oddly enough is totally geared towards an exam but actually demands you evaluate the cultural context and causes of events while exact dates are less critical than general timelines etc. And guess what? I remembered many more names and dates when I didn’t try so hard to memorize them because I was actually thinking about the history instead of using flashcards.

    Anyway, feelings on curriculum methods could go on for hours and hours. So back to feelings on her speech.

    One major problem with schools beyond whether basics are learned enough that causes a lot of her frustrations, I think, is the systems in place for honors students and measuring student achievement beyond testing. I’m talking here about ranking and the very idea of a “valedictorian”. I get that rankings help help colleges evaluate students in the context of their school whatever blah blah blah

    But by making it a numbers game learning and motivation do suffer.

    Friends of mine in high school quit band and took courses like AP Computer Science instead of a foreign language they were much more interested in because the language didn’t have a weighted GPA and would lower their class rank. Sure they learned something, but we’re beyond basics here so it wasn’t encouraging a necessary decision. All it was doing was discouraging learning topics they were interested in.

    And for students who aren’t in the race for the top? Does being given a class rank of 300 out of 900 inspire you to study? Probably not. Does it build self esteem? Probably not. Does it mean you haven’t learned enough or that you don’t have the skills to find a job or do what you’re passionate about? Probably not. So why give a discouraging number when a student might just as well be succeeding?

    Basically, learning doesn’t happen as effectively when the entire curriculum is seen as a competition. In that regard, maybe it is preparing us to go into the workplace and care about numbers over interests.

    Despite these concerns, I also can’t stand people whining that they were told to work hard and they’d succeed but now they don’t know what to do with their lives. Yeah, it’s scary. But it’s scary because you have choices. Maybe you need to do some soul searching and work some jobs you didn’t expect to with your college degree and you may find that degree isn’t putting you anywhere in the right area for what you realize your dream job is at 30… but if you can manage to earn money for food and housing and still find time to dream about what it is you want to do before you die, things could be worse. I appreciate that she ended her speech with the encouragement to move forward and try to change the system for the better for the next generation and not just complain and move on.

    Sorry this is ungodly long. Lots and lots of #feelings here.

    • Uh, yeah, this. Especially regards the first world problems quip. “Oh no, some people are TOO successful!”

      My thinking is this: the current system does produce some talented individuals who are able to see beyond the bullshit. Namely, lotsa commenters here, people I’ve met, etc. It’s not impossible. There’s some reform I’d love to see w/r/t standardized testing and teachers unions, etc but I don’t know if it’s as bad as everyone says it is.

      But I’m just a girl in her jammies in the PNW studying to be one teacher, so there’s that.

      I feel like everyone is a unique snowflake and super sparkly but not everyone is gonna fulfill their potential whatever opportunities are given to them.

      There’s anecdotal evidence out there that supports all sides of this, but I think we start falling into the same traps when we say THE ENTIRE SYSTEM IS FUCKED. CHANGE IT ALL. THERE’S NO MORE FREE THINKERS. Like, calm down Orwell.

        • Depends where in the world you are. Standardized tests are basically exams taken by the same group across a state or country where everyone has the exact same exam paper. In Malaysia there are 4 major ones – one at Std 6, one at Form 3 (Grade 9), one at Form 5 (Grade 11) and one at Upper 6 (second year of Grade 12) if you decide to go that far instead of taking a pre-university or A-levels course. The Malaysian papers had a mix of multiple choice and essay-writing, and for some subjects you had practical stuff too.

          • In Québec the only exams that aren’t teacher-made or chosen by the teacher, from my understanding are ministry exam. Those are done twice a year all through out primary(grade 1-6) and secondary school(grade 7-11) as mid-year and year end exams. I don’t think standardized test are given in Québec.

          • From the sound of it, the ministry exam would be considered a standardized exam. All “standardized exam” means is that it is organized by someone outside the school itself – be it an independent company, the state or federal government – and given equally to students from many different classrooms or schools. They then use some predetermined “standard” for grading to evaluate the results such that you should be able to compare performance levels and progress of any one student or classroom to another.

            The SAT, ACT, GMAT, LSAT and GRE are all types of standardized test used for college and post-grad admissions, for example.

          • The ministry exams are standardized by school board, I think. So EpicCrayon, if I’m correct in assuming you were educated in Quebec like I was, but with a different school board, we probably didn’t take the same end of year tests, except for in grade 10 when the whole province takes a standardized test for quebec history and math.

            (I think).

          • Yeah, that’s why I didn’t think it was a standardized test because of the fact different school boards have different exams, although its a ministry exam. But seeing as many schools in the school board get the same test, I guess it’d be considered standardized.

  22. my feelings: the trick is to use the system to do what you want. you can enjoy the fruits of labor (i.e. $$$) by playing the system while pursuing creative interests. in fact, the $$$ snagged by the former can fund the latter, and you don’t have to worry about your next meal, health insurance or paying rent.

    1) don’t try to fight the system, but realize that it *is* a system, and try to use it to your advantage. realize that it is a means to an end. when you’re 18 and idealistic, “the system” sounds like the evil empire and you can throw caution to the wind, but really, it’s just a bunch of levers and pulleys that you can press and get goodies. “education for the sake of education, broadening your mind, etc.” is a line used by the privileged. most of us need to work and pay the bills, and in order to do that, just follow the road map and you’ll be fine. (also, try to graduate with a “non-useless” degree. get a degree in econ or finance or something – you will be able to afford those fun texts on gender theory on amazon.com later on. sorry, but it’s the truth. why pay $30,000 when you can just pay $30?) it will save you a lot of heartache later on. being broke sucks, being turned away for loans sucks, not having health insurance and being hit with a $5000 hospital bill sucks. i tried to be idealistic in my early 20s, and all of those things happened. and so i got on the train and used the system to my advantage. now i make decent coin and am able to fund my hobbies and passions.

    2) now that we’ve established that the system is just a means to an end, and now that you have some money to blow on shit you actually want to do, don’t get complacent – remember to follow your passion. never got to read all those fancy liberal arts textbooks your (now-broke) classmates used to read? go buy them and read them. did you want to be an art major? in your free time, take some painting/drawing classes. want to take up photography? go to B&H and buy a DSLR, read a fucking manual and start snapping photos. want to write? setting up a blog is free.

    the system is there for your taking. milk it for what it’s worth. then you can do whatever the hell you want. /soapbox off

    • To be fair, I turned my “useless” creative writing degree into a relatively well-paid job. It’s all about marketing yourself – in my job interview, I told them that because I had experience writing about many, many things, of course I could write manuals about slot machines. Turns out I can. ;)

    • I wholeheartedly agree with the #feelings of Grace, Riese, Cait, and Rachelwashere, and I thought I’d chip in with my own…

      I’ve gone all the way through the education system to the terminus, and I suppose I’ve ‘worked the system’ to an extent, but the system worked me in the sense that I’m now paid around $30k less than my friend who dropped out of high school and is pressing buttons on an oil rig…

      I jumped the hoops of the UK education system so that I could acquire full funding for a doctorate (including other dire form-filling which allowed me to go to conferences abroad, publish papers, etc). Working the system let me do some of the most rewarding and creative work I’ve ever done and, having racked up the necessary pieces of paper/experience on the way, it’s more likely the career will continue full-time (although the recession is kicking my ass, but I really don’t think I’m alone in that).

      I agree with Erica in principle, but I have a few reservations. Though I haven’t any experience of the US high school system, I think – certainly in terms of the UK system – a more pressing issue than the stifling of creativity is the lack of a basic foundation of knowledge in some subjects (I think Rachelwashere mentioned the need for this basic skill-set). The general quality of high school mathematics and science is extremely poor, and competence in spelling, punctuation, and grammar isn’t much better. That said, I don’t know how reams of multiple-choice tests can be an effective measure of deep learning, so I certainly agree with Erica in that respect.

      I now teach 19-22 year-olds English Literature and some of my students can’t construct a sentence, can’t use an apostrophe correctly, and feel that they shouldn’t have to worry too much about paragraphing. When I pull them up about it, they complain that their ideas are groundbreaking, so why sweat the small stuff? Well, because you need to walk before you can run. Too many of my students have a ‘Will Hunting’ complex – their ideas are ‘abstract’, ‘creative’, ‘genius’, and ‘the system’ is holding that back. Maybe in some cases, but for others I’m not so sure…

      To Erica I would say – good for you, fight for what you want to see in education, and keep fighting.

      However, I’d also add:

      Just because a book isn’t on a high-school syllabus, doesn’t mean you can’t read it, just because you’re not formally taught drawing, painting, or music, doesn’t mean you can’t take them up during your spare hours/school holidays.

      University and the working world takes the base of knowledge provided by your school education, builds parts of it up and shatters others. The high school experience is only the beginning, and so I do wonder if Erica will feel the same way in 10/20/30 years.

  23. This is fantastic. You should all check out Realitysandwich.com — i think it would be great to see a lot of you writing over there! Cross posts with Autostraddle? yes please!

  24. “We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.”

    It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    “Prospering” in a system that trains us –> Going to a good college –> student loans –> feeling forced to take/keep a job that continually kicks the shit out of you –> no choices in life when money is our motivational force.

  25. I can’t agree with Grace Chu more, that first you have to figure out what you want. Then you’ve got to make the system work for you, not the other way around.

    This is a fantastic speech, and I feel lucky that I too learned the same lesson, but before I graduated high school. I’m still in college, and I have a decent gpa, but I spend dozens of hours each week doing what interests me and less than ten hours a week on school work.

    I enjoy a social life, I watch more television than anyone I know, and I spent two years being ridiculously distracted by a love that took me across an ocean before it backfired. However, I’ve learned more from the people around me and my experiences, good and a lot of bad, than I’ve learned in all the time I wasted killing myself for good grades. Now I’ve found that when I form my work around what I like rather than the other way around, I work better and get better results.

  26. Hi. I’m very lucky. Great education. After a few years of public school where I was mostly shuffled into advanced meeting-in-the-hallways groups, I was sent to a private school for gifted students. I felt stifled in public high school so I dual-enrolled at an alternative high school and eventually went on to a private boarding school for the arts. Out of $$, I dropped out of Sarah Lawrence College and, lucky enough to be a Michigan resident, could attend (imho) the best bang-for-your-buck public state school in the country for a ridiculously reasonable price.

    I chose my classes VERY carefully. PICK GOOD TEACHERS first, topics second! I worked the system, was accepted to an honors creative writing program and wrote a short-story book as my thesis. I couldn’t relate to most of the potential friends I met at U-Mich (mostly monied tiny pretty girls from east coast suburbs who wanted to fuck and then marry bankers), but by waitressing twenty hours a week off-campus, I developed a social life outside of Uni, thus avoiding the “bubble” I think Sarah Lawrence would’ve left me in (in addition to leaving me 200,000 in debt).

    This advanced, self-chosen track is sort of the extreme example of what Erica encourages. Consequentially, I’m six years out of college and the only job I’ve been offered contingent on my B.A was at a massage parlor looking for Ivy-League-educated (or the relative educational equivalent) “hotties” to provide sensual relaxation to the fine men of wall street. I often wish I’d just studied welding or hairstyling.

    When the recession drained my freelance gigs, I gave up on The Man, and started this website, where I now rely on people who worked more rationally within the system to have a little extra left over to support us following our hearts. People tell me they’re proud of me for doing this, but I feel like an Idiot, like a dumb entitled white kid who thinks my feelings are worth something. I’m ashamed and frustrated by my debt and my co-dependence. I act out in counterproductive ways against the lack of control that comes from not having a steady income. Every day I use that power for good and try to be cultivated and wise, to not accept anything at face value. I ask questions and demand truth and it doesn’t pay the bills.

    It’s my naive belief in Erica’s ideas that motivate me to push forward w/my dreams, against logic, against wisdom, against better judgment and against personal health. Even worse, I dare to trot over to this post and tell you about it, which I think is ultimately part of my problem, or else, hopefully, the opposite of that.

    • I don’t think belief in Erica’s ideas is naive at all. People really should follow their hearts instead of doing what they have been told they “should” their whole lives. I find it naive that people believe that you can go to college, get a degree in an area that will guarantee you a job/loads of money/security, put off all of your dreams and passions, and ultimately end up happy.
      So many people that I met at school this past year had a plan to do just that, but then make enough money to just follow their original/true passions once they have security. They also advised me to do the same. But that seriously makes my skin crawl. I really think they’d end up ridiculously unhappy with the path they chose and feel trapped to stay there because of the financial safety of their jobs.
      I finally said to hell with all of that and I’m going to go to school for what makes me happy despite the fact that there is a slim chance I’ll be able to have a steady job and I’ll end up with loads of loans to pay back. At least I’ll be happy with even trying. And I’m so glad that there are people like you that followed their passions despite the possibility of pitfalls, because it makes me feel a little less crazy for believing in that kind of happiness.

  27. Wow. She just outlined my life in that speech. I graduated from high school two years ago where I literally made myself sick stressing over good grades that would lead to scholarships that would lead to a good college that would lead to a good job that was supposed to suddenly equal a successful life. Despite finishing in the top of my class, I ended up staying home and starting in community college due to money & health issues. I entered into the glaring light of the real world scared and unsure how to handle myself. Over the past two years, I’ve learned what Erica figured out. We need to make a change in our educational system, because it’s crippling our kids.

  28. This speech is making me feel so many feelings but I’m not sure how to express them without 1) exceeding a character limit and 2) sounding like an incoherent blathering mess, so I’ll just say that Erica Goldson is a BAMF and leave it at that.

  29. I don’t know.. I think maybe if this girl continued along in her line of thinking a bit more she would consider the context high school has in the rest of her life… Only 4 years, and while maybe not as edifying as potentially possible, she knows how do deal with short term problems, how to get along in institutions, and she has a paper that she can wave at people to prove these things, if not her authentic valuable worth to humanity. Now, she has the whole rest of her adult life to do whatever she wants. I do agree that it would be good for there to be better defined goals in public education so that we could do a better job of addressing them.

  30. I want to give this girl a high five and a hug. I stressed for years over exams, too, and followed the ‘AP’ curriculum, now recognizing that a lot of the hype was BS. I wish with all my heart that everyone could have the same opportunity(-ies) that I have had to attend college. I was fortunate enough to attend school, yet fell victim to this higher education trap. More specifically, I followed guidance from teachers and parents and went to a private liberal arts college to study accounting. The dreaded accounting. I know, right? During my sophomore year I awoke from my stupor and decided I wanted follow my dream of being a pastry chef/owning my own bakery. I should have pursued this from the get-go, saved an extra 2 years of schooling & $$, and been happy. I finished my business degree, I am weeks away from finishing culinary school, and I couldn’t be more content with my career path. I feel lucky that I realized my foolishness before the abacus became my right arm. Thinking about those who are pressured into a career because they are told it will ‘maximize their potential’ makes me cringe. I couldn’t agree more with her speech.

    On the other hand, school systems are royally f*cked because they’ve been irrationally firing qualified, experienced teachers left and right. For example, why lay off a teacher (and relative of mine) who has over 35 years of experience in the same school system? Because he/she’s part-time/semi-retired? I hope your standardized test scores go through the floor, dipsh*ts.

    A recommended read/exercise, as shared by my mentor at culinary school: What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles.

  31. I managed to piss off my head teacher in high school because I picked a local technical college to go to instead of taking that offer to a prestigious university that would have made the school look good. It was 100% the right thing for me.

    I also managed to piss off my head lecturer in college by picking a Master’s course that has nothing to do with my main degree and turning down an offer to that prestigious university once again. :D Ya gotta do what’s right for you at the end of the day and that’s about more than qualifications.

    This topic also reminds me of this fantastic Ted talk. Well worth the watch – http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

  32. “I never let my schooling interfere with my education” -Mark Twain (1835-1910)
    This is a battle that has been fought for ages, albeit probably not been given enough serious contemplation or discussion on how to truly improve it by the powers that be (namely politicians in the money-hungry society we live in). It’s definitely something that’s always frustrated me as well- some of the most intelligent people I know did very poorly in school, not just people in the creative arts sectors but also various other trades as well.
    I’ll admit I’m a bit ignorant on alternative education options, but our current system definitely has many flaws. Not only for its emphasis on the whole memorizing instead of learning thing to do well on tests but also, of course, for people who are either of “above-normal intelligence” or those with “learning disabilities”, those categories often overlapping. My brother never spent a full year in one school, constantly being shifted from one to another due to various “learning disabilities”. It’s not that he’s “unintelligent” however quite the opposite- he just doesn’t “fit” into the system. This happens everywhere, even with people who do do well in school. Erica’s speech is great. I don’t know enough about this issue and probably wouldn’t agree with the entirety of her method, but just the fact that someone who excelled in their studies is bringing the issue to light is important. I just hope she can take those revolutionary words of hers and do her best to change the system herself if she so chooses. She says she still doesn’t know what to do with her life, perhaps partly because she just learned to do well, but maybe her passion for this issue is a hint at what she does want to do. Maybe her schooling did educate her after all.

    • Thanks for mentioning disabilities. As first-world-problems-y as this sounds (though trust me this isn’t solely an American problem, y’all are basically adopting the Asian way of education!), people from disadvantaged backgrounds do end up being screwed over by standardised tests, because they don’t usually have the resources to catch up to their more well-off peers.

      Many of them barely afford to live day-to-day, let alone get extra classes or private tutoring or resource-rich libraries or anything else. The schools are underfunded and teachers don’t get the support they need to really prepare the students for *anything*, let alone anything more than the test! You need special care for your learning disability? Can’t afford to come to class some days because you need to work to help your mum pay rent? School’s threadbare? Just migrated and can’t speak English? tough luck. And because these schools don’t tend to score well in standardised tests, and a lot of their funding rests on the results of these scores, they remain in a vicious cycle and are unable to lift themselves out.

      And then you have the college entry system – who has money to employ people to write entrance essays for you? To do SAT test prep? To even think about entering the “best” colleges? Privileged people, that’s who. And yet the community colleges, vocational system, or even the non-higher-education system, get vilified and disrespected as hell. Just because they’re not in university doesn’t mean they’re stupid or worthless. How about respecting the trades and vocations for once?

      (This is what I quite like about the Australian education system – that there are many well-supported options to enter the trades and services, and there’s less of a stigma about them. University’s still a pretty big deal but it’s not the end of the world if you can’t or don’t want to go that route.)

      • Yes! And especially if the school cannot cater to the child’s disabilities (understandable with a lack of funding allocated to such endeavors). The school either gets them an IEP (Individualized Education Program, which I suppose may work well for some but definitely not for all and often pulls the student out of interaction with their peers), or the option is to go elsewhere. Which brings us back to what you pointed out about resources and the money to afford such things. Treatments (physically or mentally) for children with disabilities can get extremely expensive and parents won’t often have more money to shelve out for school-related luxuries. The problem is that if the student cannot fit into the ‘normal’ public schooling system (or if the IEP isn’t working), they’ll probably have to go to a private school (if they can find an appropriate one) that caters to their needs which is often very expensive. Public schools will sometimes pay for these if they admit they are unable to provide an adequate education for the child but are obviously reluctant to do so which can bring about further legal battles- requiring time off from work a parent may not be able to afford. Sigh…it’s a seemingly never-ending battle!

        I do have to say I like that about Australia as well. The fact that it’s not uncommon to take a year off after school or to spend 5 or 6 years in Uni is pretty great. It allows people to decide things for themselves without the stigma of not going to a 4-yr university straight after high school graduation. Same with the lesser stigma on entering the trade route or even working for the mines for a few years to save up.

  33. Has anybody else gone through an IB (International Baccalaureate) program/received an IB diploma? I can’t vouch for it in other countries but I think that it’s a good alternative for U.S public high schools when city school systems can afford the annual fees. It’s not ideal but I think it’s a step in the right direction. I consider myself lucky to have had it offered at my high school. I’ll even go as far as saying college courses (save my Capstone courses in my major) were easier and less insightful/meaningful than IB.

    • Yup. My high school has it, and I was one of around 30 students to graduate with the diploma. I was much better prepared for college than I would have been without the program.

    • That’s a really interesting point, because I made the choice that the IB was less flexible and had less room for creativity than the standard curriculum in my state in Australia.

      I haven’t studied elsewhere, but I think the Australian education system values learning how to think and understanding how and why rather than what and when. It is something I really value about my education. It is also the reason I have done very well both at school and university, and it was because I was able to be creative and engage with the ideas. I am a bad rote learner, but ideas set my brain alight.

      It is only anecdotal evidence, but a university professor told me that American companies love Australian graduates, because we know how to think critically, which I found very interesting.

      Also, Australian university degrees don’t leave us with thousands of dollars of personal debt, so studying following your interests is not a bankrupting proposition. We have a system where the government basically pays your fees in the form of a low-interest loan that you pay back in small increments only when you are employed and earning over a certain amount. Because of this, I have a degree in English and Gender/Cultural studies that has no practical purpose but taught me how to think about and critically engage with the world. I am also employed, because these skills are recognised as basic and transferable to a working environment. Listening to the other stories in this thread, I feel incredibly privileged in that regard.

      • That’s very interesting about Australia. Like I said, I can’t speak for other countries. I just know the alternative in the U.S. is far worse than IB. To your point though, I have noticed that entry requirements for Australian MBA programs don’t stress GMAT scores as much as professional experience and that the programs themselves require students to take more electives. I’m saving up to go back to school and get an international MBA somewhere and Australia is looking very appealing when compared to expensive programs you often find in the UK for example.

  34. I think out of all the problems with the US education system, standardized testing is probably the worst. I had many teachers who (especially in math and science) taught strictly according to the “standards” the state set for each subject. So the real purpose of the class wasn’t “let’s learn about math!”; it was more like “you guys need to know this for the STAR tests in May so our school’s APY score will increase and subsequently the property value of your parents’ house will go up and we’ll all be just swell!!! Oh, and if you learn something on the side, that’s cool too, I guess.” It’s such a shitty and greedy approach to real educational progress. Not only that, but tests like that and college entrance exams put so many otherwise gifted kids at a major disadvantage if they don’t test well. I don’t want to see people like my sister, who is one of the most intelligent people I know but isn’t a good test taker due to anxiety issues, be seen as unworthy because they didn’t get a freakishly high score on the SAT.

    On a similar note, I want to know how much, on average, a high school junior/senior spends on the SAT including (multiple) testing fees, prep classes, books, etc. Who knew the admissions game was such a lucrative business?

  35. I agree with this chick, but this shit is too freakin’ complicated. Our educational system is based off of the idea of “how do we survive?”. No longer do we live in tribes where “how do we survive?” be merely learning territorial dominance, warding off predators, making babies, and finding food. It has progressed to the point that money is the soul key to survival. Therefore we go through an educational system that teaches that making money is what will help us survive, and we get stuck in the system of working because of student loans (which suck major ass) because we had to go to school to make sure we could learn how to survive! This shit is complicated – social status, survival, means of being more attractive in the sense of reproduction, how we perceive ourselves all have to do with this shit, too!

  36. I was like this girl in school: very angry at the institution and overdramatic about everything. But I never did any homework and eventually dropped out; I spent my days rereading The Teenage Liberation Handbook and living alternately at the library and the coffee shop. I learned how to screen print and do a kickflip, became nearly fluent in French, read everything by bell hooks and Leslie Feinberg, but I still needed a GED to get a legal job. And these days every job interview comes back to whether I have a college degree and not whether I possess the necessary skills. It’s a frustrating system.

    • I read The Teenage Liberation Handbook. I didn’t even go to a “traditional” high school and it made me want to drop out immediately. Do you regret your decision now? I’m really curious.

      I graduated. My coworker dropped out. He earns more than me.

      If I had dropped out I’d probably be in the same situation I am now. No better or worse.

  37. This speech is incredible. What a badass.

    If I could go back in time, or better yet, speak to a group of impressionable young go-getters, I’d tell them, “Grades are worthless, and if I had a nickel for every time one of my classmates bragged about her 4.0, I’d have a nickel to throw at her face really hard. In fact, I’m not even really sure what that 4.0 college GPA is getting her now, since the job market is so hideous. Just read a lot of books, do something that excites you and makes you want to get out of bed in the morning, and don’t feel discouraged if you have to stick with that shitty retail job/service industry lackey position for a little while longer–eventually, you will find a way to do what you love.”

    At least, that’s what I try to tell myself.

  38. You guys should check this one out, too: http://www.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/speech.pdf?ref=nyregion

    It’s more about the myth of meritocracy in America. That’s the biggest problem I have with the current system. The rich white people think they deserve to stay rich because they “worked so hard” through high school and college that they “deserve” the highest paying jobs. The whole system rewards class more than merit but leads everyone to believe it’s their personal, special gifts (and not their parent’s paycheck or education level) that gets them in. The people who do overcome that and get in on merit alone have to work waaaay harder than everyone else. Such a shame.

  39. The rich are too powerful and have too much of an interest in continuing the system as it is. Democracy is a myth since there will always be to high of a brainwashed percentage of a population. There will never be a change in anything unless we start killing the rich.

  40. This girl is self-absorbed and naive. Am I correct in assuming that she’s also white and from at least a middle class background with at least one parent college educated and working as a professional?

    There’s nothing wrong with working hard for money. People of color have done it for ages in this country, with hardly any rewards from those “above” them. The truth is that work isn’t always fun, it shouldn’t always be fulfilling and it shouldn’t be the most important thing in your life. My mother was raised by sharecroppers and worked in factories and cafeterias her entire life and she hardly ever talked about work (except for when she was laid off after 27 years of folding stockings). My mother found the real enjoyment in her life through gardening, being at home, and spending time with her family. For some of us, work is just a means to an end, and passing judgment on that and calling people “slaves” is just an untrue exaggeration and completely disrespectful to those who have been *actual* slaves. You have to go to school and take a test? Poor girl!

    This is very American and very white and very middle class commentary on education and work. This is boring and indulgent, self aggrandizing and naive. Life isn’t a cakewalk and while there are ways to build a life that is beautiful sunshine and daisies and reading books you love and making art all the time – its just not like that for everyone and we shouldn’t expect it to be. How self-absorbed to even think that you deserve to have it easy, that every thing you ever do should be fun and soul-enriching. Wake up and smell the tsumani. Wake up and smell the Katrina. Wake up and smell the food stamps. Wake up and smell the unplanned pregnancies and torn families.

    Now enjoy your summer backpacking in Europe.

    • Each can only speak for their own. She may generalize, but she only truly speaks for herself and her vision at that point. You may generalize but you may only truly speak for yourself and your vision at that point. I thank her for sharing and I thank you for sharing too.

  41. Without going into great length or detail [I’ve already written thousands of words on this for my self] this more or less the exact thoughts and sentiments I have just come so strongly to realize. Two years into college and on what I had trained myself – yes I’m talking about internal brainwashing, it’s disturbingly real – was the road to my dreams I have become deeply disillusioned with my own existential complacency. This amazing woman is ahead of the curve and I thank her kindly for expressing so well and publicly her own story and imagination and inspiration and to the others with whom I don’t feel like a lonely soul.

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