Saturday, March 29, 2008

Education, Assembly Lines, and Dreams

Last night I had a dream I was back in school. Ever have those dreams? Of course you have. I hate those. The thing I remember most vividly is taking notes – looking up at the board, reading a few words from a list, jotting them down, and repeating. The teacher came by and looked at what I was doing. He asked me why I was copying notes from the “brainstorm” board. I was supposed to be copying notes from the three side projectors. I hadn’t really been paying attention, because I was too busy trying to write everything down, hoping somehow it would all make sense later.

This is, for the most part, the way I treated school throughout my childhood, something I’d somewhat forgotten before this dream. I sat in class, tried to keep up with note-taking, which was a struggle because nobody taught me how to hold a pencil properly, so I’d press too hard. Any lessons I didn’t understand, I just had to copy down and make sense of later. There was no time in class.

Whether or not they mean it this way, school aren’t designed to help children like me, they’re designed to weed them out. It’s been awhile since I’ve really thought about that, primarily because I hated school so much. It’s a memory I’d rather just forget.

Learning should be rigorous. It has to be. But that doesn’t mean it can’t fun. I read another blog a short while ago, called Diary of an Anxious Black Woman, which stated that the public schooling system in the states is failing African Americans. This wouldn’t be the only place that I’ve read this, nor the only race I’ve read this for, but I think it’s failing just about everyone, even whites. Whites are perhaps slightly more used to this mass education system, but that only comes from generations of angst and intimidation from our well-to-do white parents. Or the not so well-to-do ones. “Don’t you do as I do. Do as I say.”

There was another portion to my dream, and it involved being at a cafeteria, looking for a drink, which I couldn’t find. I woke up thirsty. Go figure. But in the dream cafeteria, there were bins filled with frozen glasses of orange juice. I recall it being explained that, in order to save time, students could pick up a frozen glass of O.J. and just take it to class so they had something cold to drink with breakfast. What I really wanted was a soda. When I woke up thirsty, and went down to the fridge, I saw what I’d eaten last night: take-out pizza and wings. It dawned on me how well I’d been eating of late, so having nothing but pizza and chicken wings last night right before bed seemed to trigger that association of soda with pizza and wings. It was as if chemical association advertising had taken place in my dreams.

I remember waking up wanting soda, and thinking about assembly lines. I don’t recall dreaming about them, but there I was, gazing around my dark room at all the mass market consumer goods in it. A stereo, CDs, books, video games, my computer, a TV, a phone, and the list goes on. I thought about the Ford automobile, and assembly lines. So much of what we have today comes from the awesome power of the assembly line. A piece of machinery that costs millions to make, but that can be replicated for nothing more than a few dollars can be yours, or anyone’s, and it’s become an excess of sorts.

I though about how education has become like an assembly line. It too has become a mass market good, or I suppose a sponsored public good, but it’s really all the same. I picked up my young cousin at his private school yesterday, (which might explain why I dreamt about school), and he told me he’s going to be happy when he’s done grade six, because his parents will be able to afford a new car. He told me his school costs $10K a year. I couldn’t believe it. I was impressed that my uncle Harlequin, probably the least financially successful of the three brothers, would be spending the most on his son’s education. Perhaps it is because of his second wife. He has other children, but this is her only child. But it seems to be a decision they are unanimous on. It’s just weird for me meeting a child that seems to be in on the financial decisions of the family. At least at that age, grade five. It wasn’t like that for me.

I was a public school kid, for the most part. (There was a one year exception, but I won’t get into that now.) It is like a giant assembly line. You stand in line. You raise your hand when you need to go to the bathroom, and you all sit there in class, staring at the board, while your teacher writes a lesson on the board from a standardized coursebook.

Standardized. Standardized testing. These are terms I remember hearing, but never fully appreciating while growing up. I still shudder when I think of the concept. You take a thousand students, you test them. You get a bell curve. This is your sample, and you adjust the scores accordingly so that the mean average, (I always though it ironic they actually called it “mean” average), adjust it to 71% and presto, you’ve got your standardized test. Now it’s ready to be mass produced for the other millions of kids in your part of the world. Sure, you’ll have half of your students who’ll fall below, but the other half will be smarter, right? It’s all a numbers game, and I think it’s heartless and mean, and I don’t think it does the generally population any good to make half of them feel stupider than the other half.

Let me put it a different way, if somebody takes an IQ test and scores 130 or 150, do you think it’s likelier they’re some sort of genius, or someone who has way too much time on their hands and practices IQ tests? I can consistently beat any single one of my friends at chess and scrabble. It doesn’t make me a genius. I just spend a lot more time playing games.

Do we really benefit from all this? I can appreciate that mass marketing can increase our ability to produce things, things that arguably improve our quality of life, like medication and more accessible food. But is it healthy that our schools are designed to treat people like things, things to be molded and “standardized.” We’re not all built the same.


Mags said...

Hey, thanks for your comment! You know what I think? I think your name may say "Blackheart" but your comment says "Big Fuzzy Nice Heart." It's always a blast to meet other writers. I have to ask: What did it for you? What made you want to tell stories? Is blogging very different from your other writing?

Well, thanks again, and have a good one!

Malice Blackheart said...

Wow, Mags. “Big Fuzzy Nice Heart.” I think I just puked in my mouth a little.
Seriously though, you put a smile on my face and made my morning. Thank you.
Well, blogging is different from my other writing for the simple reason that it’s interactive. I get such a kick out of being able to instantly exchange words with anyone anywhere in the world at any time. And nobody knows who I am, so if everybody thinks I’m a great big douchebag, I can just vanish without a trace. Actually, some of my readers know who I am, but they’ll never tell.
As for what makes me want to tell stories, I’ll have to think about that one. I mean, I have an answer, just not a definitive one.

spookygreentea said...

My biggest problem with IQ tests is that they aren't really designed to look at all the varying types of intelligence that exist amongst individuals. The percent of verbal or language intelligence out of overall intelligence is quite low. So, sure - you can learn to reed gud, but maybe you suck at social interactions and can't make any friends. (You know, your classic "this is my sister, she is a nerd, she has no friends" example. Aharhar.)

You know, I always liked elementary school. (Well, no, not ALWAYS - but I generally liked it.) Even though I was pretty much shunned by the rest of the class, I at least found it interesting in some way. The only thing I couldn't stand was what happened between the classes. I couldn't stand all of the demented daily dramas that seemed to be ruling everyone's lives. I was much happier just escaping with a book into one of the washrooms during recess (and then paying for it at the hands of asshole teachers who thought I was misbehaving by vandalizing or what-have-you, who then made me sit in their classrooms. Yeah. Like that does a lot).