Paula White’s description of the pain she experiences in the mad, mad, mad, mad world of education has prompted me to make a single point (albeit in a rather longwinded, round-about way).
Whether you follow the yellow brick road purported to lead to the City of Oz (material “success” in the U.S. or the “global society”) or the road less traveled (of “enlightenment” or critical thinking), your students and I “feel your pain”. Perhaps it is not exactly your pain, but your students and I are pained nonetheless.
The phrase “No pain, no gain” is often used in connection with building up our physical bodies. The phrase also applies to “learning”.
There is a physiologic basis for our experiencing pain while gaining new insights and incorporating new information. When faced with new information that conflicts with “what we know” or with our passive acceptance of matters despite prior inquiry, we experience cognitive dissonance. Functional MRI studies have demonstrated that cognitive dissonance triggers a response in the same area of the brain that physical pain triggers.*
This is related to a matter societies the world around seem to have “known” but which had not been “proven” until recently. “The Rule of Sevens” is something of a legal concept that suggests human beings, up to the age of seven, are largely not responsible for their actions. Between their seventh and fourteenth years, they start to be responsible for their actions. Between fourteen and twenty-one, they become increasingly responsible for their actions and are thereafter fully accountable for what they do. All of this is related to the development of the human brain.**
Notwithstanding the seeming rigidity of the foregoing rule wide developmental latitudes exist – it is a “rule of thumb” only and yet, due to myopia and small-mindedness, “We the people” tend to think all individual children should develop “normally” and in lockstep with one another. Lewis Terman assuredly thought this when he developed the Stanford-Binet IQ Test. Those devoted to the God of the “Bell Curve”, those who develop standardized testing processes that supposedly prove the existence of intellectual and other characteristics, also seem quite enamored of the notion all humans are “supposed to be” the same at the same time during their lives.
The “supposed to be” has become a societal “fact”, with deviations to the left or right of the Bell’s peak deemed as either positive or negative anomalies.
I hope what follows gives you the same type of headache it does me. What I am about to say is personally offensive to me; you may find also find it personally offensive. If so, our respective offense will be but mirror images of one another’s pain.
Youths know that being compelled to attend school and compete against one another by seeking out the highest scores on quantitative tests comprises a great lie. They know their scores do not establish their individual value as living, thinking beings. Most know there is no pot of gold at the end of the education rainbow.
The structure of the public education system is at best amoral – it simply “is”. There is no one to blame, and herein lies the perverse and certain beauty of it – nothing can be done about the structure in a “meritocracy” in both praise and blame must be “merited”. A “Catch-22” situation exists in which we expend our time and energies looking for scapegoats to heap blame upon – the students, the teachers, the parents, the economy, the industrialists, etc. Amidst the screaming, shouting, blaming, the premises underlying the structure that assure individuals will be transfixed along stratified bands of color, sex, gender, ethnic, cultural, religious, socioeconomic and other lines are not interrogated, and by evading interrogation they remain fixed in place.
Teachers, you are functioning parts of one or another “education system”. In the USA, you may be parts of the “public” system. The system is an amoral structure premised on an immoral thought presented and discussed in the public forum in such a way that its pernicious aspects remain hidden from view in a fashion similar to a variety of other “American” viewpoints such as “The American Dream”, “Equality”, “Freedom” and “Demoncracy” (the spelling of the latter word was quite purposeful).
Unless each individual would gain critical insight, their entire lifetimes will be spent attempting to fight their way out of a paper bag. Public education assures this through teaching of lies. Each teacher is a part of this process – so, too, am I along with every other citizen, spouse, parent, employer, employee who goes along with the status quo.
I know of the foregoing Truth because I am not “free”. I am not “an American” who has an “equal” opportunity to achieve my “American Dream”. My “test scores”, education credentials that demonstrate cultural capital, experience as a police officer, Paramedic and attorney all evidence the Truth of the matter. We live in a structured society and I find myself quite screwed, quite firmly affixed in place as part of a structured society.
I was raised in a “privileged” environment. My adoptive parents were college graduates – my father had attended years of seminary afterward to become a minister, my mother was a high school teacher. As a child I could do little but grow – my verbal intelligence grew due to the fertilizer around me – plenty of bull, horse and other manure. I was raised to become an active participant in “American society”. Despite this, however, I have been and remain somewhat distanced from “mainstream” society.
In The Republic, Plato set forth a dialogue between Socrates and several students involving the proposal to present youths with a lie designed to lead them to live in a manner that placed the good of society before their own. Despite recognizing the potential for extreme outrage should the youths discover they had been taught to live a lie, it was concluded that teaching them to live a lie was the best course of action to take.
Thomas Jefferson was quite astute. The structure of “public education” in the U.S.A. acts as “the hand that rocks the cradle”, “educating” each individual to the effect of assuring they serve society unawares.
Socrates and the students were correct – upon learning the truth, the recipients of lies will be extremely angered.
I suspect that some who read this have been, and continue to be, somewhat uncomfortable. Perhaps your heads hurt because you think – perhaps you have been living a lie taught to you early in your lifetime.
* Masten, C. L., Eisenberger, N. I., Borofsky, L. A., Pfeifer, J. H., McNealy, K., Mazziotta, J. C., & Dapretto, M. (2009). Neural correlates of social exclusion during adolescence: understanding the distress of peer rejection. Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience, 4(2), 143-157. doi:10.1093/scan/nsp007
Masten, C. L., Telzer, E. H., & Eisenberger, N.I. (2011). An fMRI investigation of attributing negative social treatment to racial discrimination. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 23(5), pp. 1042–1051
van Veen, V., Krug, M.K., Schooler, J. W., & Carter, C.S. (2009). Neural activity predicts attitude change in cognitive dissonance. Nature Neuroscience, 12(11), pp. 1469-1475. doi:10.1038/nn.2413
Westen, D., Blagov, P. S., Harenski, K., Kilts, C., & Hamann, S. (2006). Neural bases of motivated reasoning: An fMRI study of emotional constraints on partisan political judgment in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 18(11), 1947-1958
** Blakemore, S. (2008). Development of the social brain during adolescence. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61(1), 40-49. doi:10.1080/17470210701508715
Choudhury, S., Blakemore, S., & Charman, T. (2006). Social cognitive development during adolescence. Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience, 1(3), 165-174. doi:10.1093/scan/nsl024
Oberstar, J.V., Anderson, E.M., & Jensen, J.B. (2006). Cognitive and moral development, brain development and mental illness: Important considerations for the juvenile justice system. William Mitchell Law Review, (32)3, pp. 1051-1061