The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'school'
A former teacher blows the lid off the real functions of schools; sounds somewhere between a Situationist pamphlet and a New Waver sound collage: (via NWD)
1) The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can't test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.
2) The integrating function. This might well be called "the conformity function," because its intention is to make children as alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.
3) The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student's proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in "your permanent record." Yes, you do have one.
This part makes some sense (and reminds me of a claim I heard that the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was behind the modern education system's emphasis on unstructured rote memorisation of facts rather than critical analysis; the former makes useful worker drones, whereas the latter can breed revolutionaries and troublemakers. Mind you, it wouldn't surprise me if the source of the claim was some Marxist or anarchist pamphlet.)
Point 5, however, is a bit more paranoid.
5) The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all but to Darwin's theory of natural selection as applied to what he called "the favored races." In short, the idea is to help things along by consciously attempting to improve the breeding stock. Schools are meant to tag the unfit - with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments - clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes. That's what all those little humiliations from first grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.
Granted, school is a brutal, high-intensity pressure-cooker environment that brings out the worst in its inmates, and I can buy the theory that it conveniently serves the purpose of instilling conformity and social cohesion (though, these days, TV, short attention spans and medication also help); however, the claim that it's designed to act as a system of psychological eugenics to keep the unfit from breeding is a bit harder to swallow.
Gibson's Law meets the Jon Katz Hellmouth, as school bullies adopt new technologies, from SMS harrassment to "Nigelling" (i.e., ostracising their victims from online chatrooms). (Though is "Nigelling" really so unusual? The less-than-popular kids have always been left out of the quarterbacks'/prom-queens' reindeer games for as long as children have been herded into the social pressure-cookers known as schools. And in this day of the Internet, the misfits would be likely to find their own cliques, even if they consist of a cluster of pseudonymous DeadJournals scattered across the world.
Read: Why nerds are unpopular, an interesting essay which starts by asking the question of why intelligent kids are so unpopular in schools, and going from that to the malaise of living in a world detached from any real meaning:
And the active persecution is, if anything, the less painful half of the popularity equation. As well as gaining points by distancing oneself from unpopular kids, one loses points by being close to them. A woman I know says that in high school she liked nerds, but was afraid to be seen talking to them because the other girls would make fun of her. Unpopularity is a communicable disease; kids too nice to pick on nerds will still ostracize them in self-defense.
The author posits that the culture of sadism and cruelty is an emergent property of human nature in an unnatural environment (both schools and the wastelands of suburbia), and that in a world without meaning or purpose, kids find their own meaning in popularity and create their own arbitrarily vicious society. (I.e., the Lord of the Flies Effect.)
I think the important thing about the real world is not that it's populated by adults, but that it's very large, and the things you do have real effects. That's what school, prison, and ladies-who-lunch all lack. The inhabitants of all those worlds are trapped in little bubbles where nothing they do can have more than a local effect. Naturally these societies degenerate into savagery. They have no function for their form to follow.
If I could go back and give my thirteen year old self some advice, the main thing I'd tell him would be to stick his head up and look around. I didn't really grasp it at the time, but the whole world we lived in was as fake as a twinkie. Not just school, but the entire town. Why do people move to suburbia? To have kids! So no wonder it seemed boring and sterile. The whole place was a giant nursery, an artificial town created explicitly for the purpose of breeding children.
As far as I can tell, the concept of the hormone-crazed teenager is coeval with suburbia. I don't think this is a coincidence. I think teenagers are driven crazy by the life they're made to lead. Teenage apprentices in the Renaissance were working dogs. Teenagers now are neurotic lapdogs. Their craziness is the craziness of the idle everywhere.