Numb, Crushed and Wounded

Columbus Day. When are we going to change that name. Can we call it “Genocide Day”? Can this day be wrested away from the Italians?

There is nothing new about questioning why we call this a national holiday. I have heard several quotes from the popular media recently that confirm this growing doubt. One coming from the mouth of a character on the popular show “The Office.” Another coming from the latest installment of “Epic Rap Battles of History” which pits Colombus against Captain Kirk. When you live with an 11 year old, you get to know this stuff.

But I do not really want to chat about Columbus. I did that two years ago on this blog in an article called “Indigenous Peoples Day.” I am kind of done with Columbus.

I have not much to add at this point. The year feels new again. National Jewish Depression Week is over and I have this urge to go and clean up my studio. There have been some neglected projects which call me and I have a few plans for the blog in the coming season. One of which I will be flexing my interviewing skills. I have two BFS High School students lined up for interviews. I hope to add some of the advisors and eventually branch out to hear the voices of others who are in chorus with this blog.

I received a query this week regarding my project for creating a documentary on the Democratic Free School movement. Beyond Schooling is on the back burner awaiting fiscal sponsorship approval, which is just being vetted by a lawyer before final approval. There is the possibility of expanding the blog to included segments which I can shoot myself with a handheld camera. The truth is, everyone wants to shoot footage of our schools. People are intrigued, bewildered at what we have going on. On one hand there is the inherent mistrust of letting children run free (rampant may be more accurate) and yet, the articulation that comes out of the mouths of even some our youngest members, is always impressive. It is hard to affect the hearts of the masses after decades of self esteem bashing and mental/emotional abuse from the institutions most of us were subjected too.

Dr. Kirsten Olsen has listed 7 ways in which education has wounded us. I am not going to list all, but suggest that you read and follow the links to her website.

Wounds of creativity. School stifles creativity. This is perhaps the most obvious wound of school. Students’ own passions and interests are generally ignored. Students’ unique, creative ways of solving problems and their outside-the-box answers to questions, which fail to match the teachers’ answer sheets, are not understood and are graded as wrong by busy teachers. Rote learning and tests that have one right answer for every question leave no room for creativity. Olson’s informants who went on to live creative lives apparently did so despite, not because of, schooling. They had to recover or rebuild the creative spirit that had been so natural to them before starting school. My own guess is that altogether too many others rarely think about creativity once they have lost it in school; they may not even notice this wound. And then there are those who remain creative in those realms that school doesn’t touch, but become uncreative in the realms covered by the school curriculum. How many people have totally lost mathematical creativity because of the ways it was taught in school?

Wounds of compliance. In school students must continuously follow rules and procedures that they have no role in creating and must complete assignments that make no sense in terms of their own learning needs. Students generally cannot question these rules and assignments; if they do they are smart-alecks, or worse. To avoid getting into trouble, they learn to obey blindly, and in the process they learn to be bad citizens in a democracy. Democracy requires citizens who question the rules and insist on changing those that are unfair or don’t make sense. They also hurt themselves by going through life following narrower paths than they might if school had not taught them that it is dangerous to explore the edges.

Or as Zach Galifanakis’ character Ray, in HBO’s Bored to Death puts it: “I would make a lousy father anyway. I wouldn’t be able to tell a child all the lies you need to feed them. Like 18 years of school is fun and that crushing your spirit to fit in with the rest of the world is a good thing.”

Digital collage by Bruce Zeines

There is a volunteer project that has come across my desk in the past week for a local mentoring project. My mind began to change about it as I got more involved in the details of this project, which on face value is an attempt to do something good for the community. It’s intention is to help black youth find “the jobs of tomorrow” by meeting with community leaders (lawyers, doctors, executives, professors) who will make themselves available to these young people. But in truth, what the community leaders fail to recognize, is the damage, and blows to the self esteem of these children who are on the verge of moving into the roles that will help conduct life on this planet. And they have no tools for this adventure. For one, the “jobs of tomorrow” do not exist anymore. They have gone down the river with all our other trash. The true “jobs of tomorrow” are with the people who are revitalizing their neighborhoods with urban farms, energy solutions, alternative transportation systems, rethinking our culture of consumption and exploring new ways to educate. Law jobs, which any ethnic group in this country have always thought to be the safest bet, is fast becoming one of the most outsourced occupations in the world. None of the mentors on the list  come even remotely close to being inspirational. They are selling the same old junk. They have not even changed the packaging. Looking at what has been taking place across America over the past weeks with the Occupy Wall Street movement should be a wake up call to what is REALLY happening in this country and across the planet. People are publicly starting to voice their dilemma. It has taken a great deal of adversity and carpet bagging from the corporate sector to arouse people to action.

There have been many wake up calls over the centuries. It would be nice if this one matters, which I think it does. But there is also the truth of how those in power doggedly cling to tired ideals and how they can get even more oppressive in the face of their demise. Look at Libya, Syria and Egypt. Dead ideas. Like the children’s ditty I grew up with “Last night an empty car full of people ran over a dead horse and nearly killed it.” Seems so true as I restate it.

The wake up calls keep coming. Maybe for a change we can not hit the snooze button and refrain from rolling over and going back to sleep.

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