Posted by: fullandbye | November 30, 2004

Some thoughts on school…

1) I really hate grades. They are violent and stupid.
2) We are taught from a young age that school rewards those who play it safe. As a result, we are often hesitant to go out on a topical limb.
2a) School tends to value products more than processes. Both are important.
3) We are taught that school is a zero sum game. This can breed a sort of competition in the class whereby people set out to destroy others’ ideas. Intellectual bullying kills fun, experiment and community just as mch as physical bullying does.
4) Specifics are often valued more than generalities and abstractions. This leads to bored (and boring) people and projects. To be sure, specifics are important. One cannot make a general claim without backing it up with specific examples, but jesus specifics are boring! A meaningful education necessarily knows how to take specifics, and synthesize and abstract them into generalities that inform the everyday.
5) It is easier to talk about symptoms than systems. But this misses the point. Revolutions come about because of systemic observations and systemic changes of consciousness.
6) We are taught that school is necessarily in opposition to play. This stifles imagination and makes curiosity either transgressive or dorky. The notion of the classroom being a playground is absent from the educational construct until (maybe) college. Even then, there is a hesitancy to approach things playfully. Somehow being intellectual has been conflated with being “serious”.
7) From about middle school/junior high onwards, school is always a stepping stone to somewhere else. Why cannot high school just be high school? What is the value in depriving people of appreciation for the present and the process of growing up?
8) We conflate schooling with education. Mark Twain said “I never let school interfere with my education”.

I am so frustrated and so disheartened. Please tell me this is a symptom of senioritis.



  1. devils educationary advocate
    Allright Raz, here is my best to contradict your every point.
    Hope you enjoy it.
    maybe I just had a sweet ass high school, but I find my life has been entirely different. College was me learning the very hard way, that a proper education consists of playing it safe and learning specifics, as all of my success prior to that had been based on risk and generalities. I didn`t earn the title “mr nebulous” for nothing.
    1. Debated this in my Teach for America Interview. Sure, a page long detailed report with comments would be more helpful to students.
    But, remember that the purpose of grades is to transfer students academic information to other institutions. How much more work/reading do you expect teachers and admissiosn officers to be subjected to?
    And, in real life, you dont get “grades”, but you sure as hell are getting constantly evaluated. School is a good opportunity to practing facing harsh truths. The real bullshit is pressure for everybody to get good grades. On my Japanese language test study guide (like everything japanese) it condescedningly explains the “average”, and then goes on to exhort students to study hard, so you can “beat” the average. How bakwards is that? Making everyone expect to be better than average (a C) is silly. Not everyone is excellent. For a variety of personal and circumstantial reasons. Life is full of this, and grades should reflect.
    I think instead of ditching grades, the culture around them needs to change.
    3 I have never had a class ever where I felt like I was in competition with the other students. All through high school, classes were either everyone was judged on one standard (so it behooved you to work together), or it was a laggards curve, were gardes would only be adjusted if it helped the class. Ie, if teh highest grade was 95%, everybody got bumped up 5%, if the highest grade was 105%, that person was discounted as an outlier, and we all stayed the same. I know that happened consistently in my AP classes in high school, I cant speak for college in general, but I know mr mashal was a very kind man to many of us.
    4. Read more Nabokov. Is all I can say. This, I think may just be my own opinion, but as someone who is good at generalizing, I think its way overrated. Strangely, I really came to appreciate this in poetry analyzation classes, where everybody had a “feel” for the poem, but some people actually specific reason why they felt some way, and they were by FAR the most interesting people to whom I listened. A generaltity is the arch stone, (Keystone?) in any good argument/theory/conversation, but it can easily become sophistic wanking.
    Imagine a liberal and consverative, violently blathering on about the theories that inform their day. That may be exiciting, but I think ultimatley useless. Imagine instead them begining from a specific. Like the fact that their are about a hundred homeless people living near the ave. Another fact might be that this likely bothers them. If in their conversation, these two facts are held sacred, and not their set of general ideologies, then the conversation will have a much better job of fixing a real problem, and not simply addressing permennentaly unsolvable question with tired rhetoric. Such as when do you stop giving a giving a man fish, and start teaching him, and whats the best way to teach a man to fish? I believe in the human capacity to get a hundred people off the street far more than I do the capacity to solve sophisticated questions of human nature.
    Sure, over a beer, I prefer the latter, but schooling should teach you how to face the real world, not prepare you to talk with your friends over beers. They Plato, yeah?

  2. what do you mean I cant post more than 4500 characters!!!
    5. Hmmm. From my cognitive science class, most of what I learned about human cognition suggest we are driven to continually make systems, as individual phenomena are far to varied and available to handle all at once, so we by necessity handle everything systematically. Which is great, but being handled like a system sucks. Ever been to a doctor, told him your symptoms, and she just nods and gives you the same list everyone gets, about getting sleep and and orange juice? Doesnt it suck when your symptoms are valued?
    Or, if when your learning, and you ask a teacher a question, instead of addressing where your at, they simply walk you through from the begining?
    As I said earlier, I think proper generalizations are crucial (no bridge minus keystone), but its imperative that critical thinkers take care to understand and interpret symptoms.
    One of my favorite nabokov stories has an argument about whether the skill in art is to draw distinctions or comparisons, and nabakov clearly favors distncintions. Ill bring it home to you.
    6. Well, not in language class. Thats my job here, in Japan, of all places, the most notoriously educational conservative place ever. And the Japanese government has directly hired thousands of foriegners to come and play games with their children. For educational purposes.
    In proper classes, there is the subtle awareness that arguing and knowing are if not fun, at least empowering and interesting. Keeping up that balance between interest and hard work is key to good classes, and I feel like Ive had plenty of classes that let students in on the fun of knowledge.
    7) wow. I remember being in aikido, and wishing that I could just practice for ever, and not ever have to try to take the test, becuase then I might fail. And that would suck. But, I realized that if I didn`t ever expect a test, I would do each through differently. Part of the experience of High School is that its a stepping stone. You limit yourself if you think thats all it is, but then, all my friends who didnt think it was a stepping stone are at home, smoking pot right now. Or, like me, got into and in state university out of lack of forthough to apply someplace like reed.
    Busting hardcore trek on you, remember when in the movie, Picard dicthes the eternal heaven of the nexus (whatever that pink wave shit was) and says that he thinks “Time is not your enemy. Rather, it is your friend, and reminds you to appreciate every moment of it.”
    School should help you learn for life, and I think training ambition into kids is awesome.
    8). Do you know how ridiculsouly diffictult it is to “educate” myself without school out here? I have loved every second Ive stepped back into a Japanese classroom, the 10 or 12 times I`ve done it.
    I think school needs to be seen only as a vital organ of the education process(heart, not quite brain). But, you can get quite an education at school, as I know several people have, whether its in the boys bathroom, in the steam tunnels, or in 4 am in some school craftroom. Lets not forget school is the REAL world, if only a part of it.
    oh yeah…
    ps, no its not senioritis, thats just a convienient system your stuffing your symptoms into. You probably are just going through some simple life crisis
    (I want to be taken seriously as an academic and still make poop jokes the little man in the back of your head screams), percipitated by friends or enemies opinions or offhand comments,
    and are taking it out on the educational paradigm as you see, as you are emotionally and professionally bound to its memes.
    (God, you can so tell how much I need to study for my test…stupid manifestos………………gahathatg! Lucky duchess isnt here, or

  3. we be talking until dawn, tomorrow

  4. frogot 2

  5. Montessori schools are cool–althought not perfect. Still, it denies (2), (6), attempts to bridge the gap of (8).
    But not being in a montessori school, Raz: word.

  6. Re: what do you mean I cant post more than 4500 characters!!!
    and eric word to your mom.
    ha ha.
    no, seriously bro, eric, word.

  7. straight up
    at my montessori, there was as best a blur between work and play as there could be, you had like seven “activities” you had to do, like paint with the visiting art teahcer, do math, cut carrots for lunch, whatever, which were sometimes time depenpendent, sometimes not, and you just ran around and played the rest of the time. So you could east clay until you were sick, do half a page of math, get tired, count your toes, pee your pants, get cleaned up, ask a teacher for help, finish your math, have recess etc….
    it was pretty cool. So yeah, I think they rocked 6.
    And…since everyone progressed at their own pace without anyone else knowing their positions in the workbooks, their was no fear of being an an idiot or being too smart. Which I think helps outs the need to play safe (2).
    thats right montessori straight kicks sorry other schools ass, huh.

  8. Re: what do you mean I cant post more than 4500 characters!!!
    Here goes.
    1) I suppose I agree with you here. The culture around grades need to change. I appreciate the idea of grades being a sort of transferrable currency, but I would like to see systems of educational meaning that do not conflate grades with value, or rather, that value things other than grades. I can elaborate here if you wish, but I imagine your views here are a lot like mine.
    3) I have been in classes where the dominant ideology constructed a sytstem whereby colleagues were opponents to beat in battle. The competitiveness stemmed out of a desire to be right by proving others wrong, with this notion that the last idea standing would win. This system inevitably led to people building really solid arguments and not taking chances for fear of being proven wrong or humiliated. This does not really have to do with the currency of grades as much as it has to do with the culture of being right. I myself have been an intellectual predator and a bully in the classroom; always to the same effect of shutting down experimentation and laughter. I am ashamed of myself, and now aggravated to see this in others.
    4) I absolutely agree with you. Specifics are really important. To give you some context for my frustration though, this observation (this whole series of rants actually) came out of a really aggravating honors class where a group presented on the roles of consumers in alleviating trends in climate change. The group spent the whole time discussing specific things consumers could do, and seemed completely bewildered when I suggested that they were a) preaching to the choir and, b) dodging the beefier question (the consumerist tendencies that seem ingrained in the American consciousness). Perhaps instead of abstractions, I suppose that I prefer discourse that presents a whole series of specific examples, and when it has contextualized an idea across many specific examples, then synthesizes all the examples by “going meta” (to borrow from Steve Harrell) and states a notion that approaches, or at least flirts with, the universal. I got this appreciation for the general from Marshall. Put simply, specifics prevent wankery, but generalities spark controversy and conversation. Really great discourse is always negotiated between these two notions.
    5) In all statements about human affairs, the notion of human consciousness cannot remain absent from the discussion (see how I bent towards the specific?) I appreciate discussions of symptoms, but in classes that deal with as large a phenomenon as climate change, spending 45 minutes discussing, in minute detail, the merits of hybrid cars over SUVs seems a little wankerous. We all know that people should buy smaller cars. What systemic notions in the american consciousness (cars=sex, notions of masculinity, individualism, entitlement, the merits of science, etc) should be discussed for more than five minutes. Doctors should both deal with your symptoms to make you better, but perhaps we need to have another conversation about a society that tends to sleep deprive itself, overwork itself, overdrug itself, not drink enough orange juice etc…
    6) That warms my heart. It really does. I would like to see more of that here.
    7) Ambition and living in the present are not mutually exclusive. I do not think so anyways. I agree that high school is a stepping stone. But it should still be seized as a part of life, and a time to play. To borrow from Martin Buber, looking forward is central to wisdom, but looking forward all the time makes it impossible to see the here and now. Regardless where we are going, it is always important to find the beauty and make hallowed the place, here where one stands.
    8) You have falsified Twains dichotomy. There are benefits to school, but if you were in school there the way you were here, at what cost to the rest of your experience would that come? I am ready to do different things with my time for awhile. I am feeling more and more like school has made a bit of a vicarian. I want to do for a while, not just read. Then again, I left conservatory because I was doing all the time, without being able to read at all.

  9. Re: what do you mean I cant post more than 4500 characters!!!
    Dude, I had to cut this out.
    When will you be in town? I called your dad on thanksgiving, but forgot to ask him when you will be here.
    This has been fun. And definitely a way to prevent school from interfering with my education (I should have been reading this whole time)

  10. Re: what do you mean I cant post more than 4500 characters!!!
    soon i will be nya ha ha. will you still have a test for me to distract you from?

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