Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Danger of Compulsory Schooling

For the majority of people, life is a struggle which consists of doing what everyone else wants them to do while suppressing or ignoring what they really want to do with their lives. This starts in infancy, when babies and young children, eager to please parents and other caregivers, willingly comply with most requests. But later, as they begin to see that what other people want is not what they want, they begin to step into their individuality, and begin to refuse to be controlled, and we punish them for developing this amazing personal autonomy. We send them to formalized schooling, which are bastions of social indoctrination and control, and where we expect them to learn to fall in line and do things the way everyone else does them. This is soul-crushing and cruel.

So schooling does not equal education. Many of the worlds greatest thinkers eschewed most early formal schooling. People like Farragut, Edison, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Washington, Melville, Twain, and one of my personal favorites, Margaret Mead.

Margaret Mead grew up in a freethinking, intellectual home. Her father was a professor at the Wharton School of Finance, her mother was a sociologist. and her grandmother was a child psychologist. Her early formal schooling consisted of one year and half days in the fourth grade. Later she did attend high school, but spent six years in various schools. She then completed several advanced degrees and became a field researcher in anthropology.

Now you might say, her parents were intellectuals with advanced degrees, how could the average person do this with their kids? Parents in this country and around the world are doing it every day. You as the parent just provide support and help when asked. You don’t have to stand over them making sure they do lessons. They are naturally curious and given the chance, they will find something they are interested in.

If you are a person who values your own autonomy, you will not take away your children’s autonomy. H.. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public educa
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 . . . and that is its aim everywhere else. 
Public education has been a grand, mass experiment to see just how much the powerful could control the powerless. Do you want to be one of the powerless? Is that what you want your children to be? Give them a fighting chance to break out of this social straightjacket.

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Sunday, January 05, 2020

Pain Reminds Us We’re Still Human

In Western society today, the quest to empower ourselves is endless. Self-help books abound, and we eagerly line up to sit at the feet of any self-styled guru who promises us more of whatever we’re seeking. We want less pain and more pleasure. We want people to stop reminding us of our faults and start building us up. We want to revel in our extraordinary qualities and leave behind our imperfections and vulnerabilities.

To be sure, a healthy dose of self-esteem is a good thing. But we forget that in life, everything is our teacher, and our pain exists to remind us that we are still human. We will never be extraordinary, and that’s okay.

Human beings are already perfect - in their messiness, their meanness, their intolerance and their weakness. We have a desire to lift ourselves above these qualities, as if they are somehow less desirable than our more altruistic attributes. But without our messiness, we would not be authentic humans, we would be supermen and women, which we definitely are not.

We are beautiful, difficult, strong, unreliable, smart, capable, irritating messes. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. If you expect something higher or nobler from yourself or the people you come in contact with, you are creating your own frustration and pain by holding unreasonable expectations about what being human is supposed to be like. 

The next time you experience pain - physical or emotional - how about taking a deep breath and embracing it rather than running from it? Sit with it a while. I know it feels like a morass you’ll never get out of. You are afraid to stay there too long for fear you can’t get out. But you can, any time you want. Knowing that should help you feel comfortable staying there a little longer. Be a full participant in you life. Don’t eschew parts of it you think aren’t worthy or are too messy. 

Our pain reminds us that we are no different from anyone else, no matter how much we want to be better. There are no good people and bad people. Just humans struggling with our messiness. No villains and victims. We all have the same longings and the same trouble fulfilling them. Almost all of us want companionship along the way. And we want others to honor our choices even if they disagree.

We’re all just figuring this out as we go, so how about some compassion, for ourselves and those we come in contact with. They don’t show any to me, you say. No, and you shouldn’t expect them to. They’re still figuring out how to do that. But the best hope they have of learning is to see you doing it, day by day. 

It’s a paradox that, as we seek to accomplish the elimination of suffering, we learn that we can’t be human without it. We learn that it has a place in our lives. And when we learn that, our suffering becomes less somehow. We learn to embrace everything and be afraid of nothing. 

No one can escape their messiness. But we can love ourselves and others anyway.

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