American Public Schools = Social Injustice:
High School Engineering Prodigy Suspended For Being Too Intelligent
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
Social and economic injustice are my two pet peeves when it comes to life within these United States, and that’s exactly what has transpired this past week. On this past Monday, September 14th, Irving Texas high school student Ahmed Mohamed brought to school a clock that he was proud to have made on his own, and found himself arrested for what police initially – and falsely – said was a hoax bomb. But by mid-week, his face and name were splashed across traditional and social media, and he’d received thousands of tweets and Facebook posts of encouragement. President Barack Obama invited him to the White House and praised his love of science. Leaders at Reddit and Twitter offered him internships. Google executives said they were reserving Ahmed a spot at their weekend science fair and MIT asked him to visit the campus. The hash tags #IStandWithAhmed and #EngineersForAhmed have garnered hundreds of thousands of posts and tweets.
In an interview late Wednesday with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, Ahmed said he was pulled out of class at MacArthur High School by his principal and five police officers and taken to a room where he was questioned for about an hour and a half. At one point he asked the adults if he could call his parents. “They told me ‘No, you can’t call your parents,'” Ahmed said. “‘You’re in the middle of an interrogation at the moment.’” They asked me a couple of times, ‘Is it a bomb?’ and I answered a couple of times, ‘It’s a clock.'” “I felt like I was a criminal,” the teenager said. “I felt like I was a terrorist. I felt like all the names I was called. Just because of my race and my religion,” he said, adding that when he walked into the room where he was questioned, an officer reclined in a chair and remarked, ‘That’s who I thought it was.’ I took it to mean he was pointing at me for what I am, my race,” the freshman explained. Mohamed, who immigrated to the United States from Sudan, and who is Muslim, believes that he was targeted because of his brown skin color and his religion. His father is still furious that the school didn’t contact him right away to tell him his son had been arrested. Instead, he first learned of what happened when police called him. His father told CNN he rushed to the station and saw his son surrounded by five police and he was handcuffed. The school later suspended Ahmed for three days, his father said. Mohamed said his son was at first embarrassed by what happened, but then was lifted and emboldened by the widespread support he has received. “I was scared at the moment, but now I feel really happy,” the young prodigy later told CNN. “I’m getting all this support from all over the world. And the support isn’t just for me but for everyone who has been through this. I will fight for you if you can’t stand up for yourself.”
Irving police had held onto the clock as evidence, but on Thursday, they told CNN that it’s ready for Ahmed to pick it up. Asked what his plans for the future are, he told GMA, “That clock was part of my future.” Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne defended the school district and police. “I do not fault the school or the police for looking into what they saw as a potential threat,” she said in a statement. They all followed procedures, she said. A spokeswoman for the Irving Independent School District said that the way the teen’s experience has been described in media reports is “unbalanced.” She declined to explain why, citing the need to protect a student’s privacy, but said more details would be revealed if the family gives written permission to discuss the incident.
So what’s wrong with our schools? Why did this latest episode between student and faculty occur? I contend that all this is happening to our children by design in order to make sure that the majority of us are programmed to be workers of all different types, so that every need of our current capitalist economic system (not to mention the numerous personal needs of wealthy business owners and their lobbyists, plus corporate CEO’s and their immediate families) can be met. Clearly our school systems are being managed this way by design in order to perpetuate our current hierarchical and authoritarian management structures within both government and the workplace. What the elitists don’t tell you is what happens to those who don’t seem to fit into our glorified capitalist economic system. They usually wind up as prisoners, mental patients or homeless, although there are rare exceptions. They are those whose teachers and parents gave up on them, which eventually teaches these hapless individuals to give up on themselves. Many are those who are labeled as “learning disabled” (whatever that is), people demolished by our rigged capitalist system in a way that starts when these pitiful souls were still very young. These so-called “failing” students are sent to ruin by those in positions of power and authority who love to micro-manage people’s lives just for sport. Unable to cope with being labeled as poor students early on, and with no one to rescue them, they crawl through life, wrecked by warped senses of self-esteem that condemn them to failure, filled with rage, until many of them become institutionalized one way or another. And all this crap happens because some corporate bigwig somewhere was afraid they wouldn’t be able to make enough of a profit from them, and that is brutal mass exploitation by any definition. It’s a gross human rights violation! Instead, I think it’s far better to define ourselves as Americans by how we treat our least fortunate citizens. In that regard I would say we have some improving to do.
Our American public school system is so inferior that it requires total replacement with a digitized system of Internet-based computer learning to bring it up to 21st century speed. This issue is about nothing less than the fundamental right to unrestricted public education from the cradle to the gravestone at little or no cost. What are today’s children subjected to instead of quality education, you may ask? As I write this, on average an American child is neglected or abused every 36 seconds, born into poverty every 41 seconds, and born without health insurance every 59 seconds. These same children are killed by gunfire once every three hours, while yet another hungry, innocent baby is born to a new teenage mother every 60 seconds. Shall we pass judgment on these disadvantaged children as is often the case today, citing so-called “moral” reasons in order to limit their chances of success? Or will we write off these at-risk children as inferior, or as being “not worth the effort”, as is so popular among certain religious conservatives and other bigots? Before you answer any of these questions, let me introduce you to someone who knows what is wrong with education in America. In 1991, a gentleman by the name of John Taylor Gatto won the New York State Teacher of the Year award. His now-famous, even legendary response was to quit, terminating a 30-year career. In a guest column written later in the Wall Street Journal, Gatto said he “didn’t want to hurt kids anymore”. Let me quote briefly. “I’ve come slowly to understand what it is I really teach: a curriculum of confusion, class position, arbitrary justice, vulgarity, rudeness, disrespect for privacy, indifference to quality, and utter dependency. I’ve been teaching kids how to fit into a world I don’t want to live in. Just because your kids are being schooled doesn’t mean they’re being educated. Schooling is given or imposed, but an education is taken by the student. The child is 90 percent sovereign in it. The kid should be the director of his/her life.” Now that’s what I call radical!
“There’s a genius in every child”, Mr. Gatto continued, “but it hardly ever regrows once it’s stomped out. Schools turn out incomplete people, people that have to be connected to some other source of meaning because they can’t generate meaning from the inside. Schooling as it exists isn’t nearly the most efficient way if you want mental development, and it’s a catastrophe if you want moral development…The mass of kids learn, quite deliberately, to be bored. There’s a reason for that. The truth is that bored people detach from their minds and connect with their appetites. They’re desperately searching for something to put in their mouths, or to kiss, or to throw rocks at, or to kill. Bored people aren’t serious competition. They don’t gather together and form organizations to overthrow the leadership. They’re seeking some kind of solace and relief from their boredom, so they become the most dependable customers of all.” Is the school system, then, designed to produce formulaic, obedient, predictable, dumbed-down, conformist consumers and workers and, more nefariously, to discourage dissent? If this all sounds conspiratorial, turn to history. Here’s three samples of what was being written down about education over a hundred years ago:
“The raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products, manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry”. Ellwood P. Cubberly, dean of school of education, Stanford University, 1905.
“We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and to fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” Woodrow Wilson, from an address to the New York City High School Teachers Association, January 9, 1909
“Somewhere between the ages of 11 and 15, the average child begins to suffer from an intellectual atrophy, the paralysis of curiosity and the suspension of the power to observe. The trouble I should judge to lie with the schools.” Thomas Edison, circa 1900
Just why is it that we warehouse our children in cell-block-style classrooms five days a week for twelve years, force-feed them a standardized diet of what we think they need to learn, and move it all along with boredom, bells, and tests? Who came up with this system of forced confinement learning? Has it just devolved into easy daycare? No, in that case the school boards simply did away with recess so no one could accuse them of that. I understand kids learn things in school, they get to socialize, and get a needed break from their parents. But much of a child’s time in school is squandered, and worse, the process itself has some ill effects. Is school a waste, or even a theft, of childhood? What are the real skills that actually get us through life? Self-confidence, strong character, free and independent thought, autonomy, a passion for learning and enrichment – are these things being taught or stifled in school? The fact that we tell students what they need to learn rather than allowing them to direct their own study, doesn’t this derail a child’s natural ability to think for him or herself – one of the main skills necessary for survival? The American approach to education is so full of anomalies; horrible diet, too many prescribed drugs, and corporate penetration of the sacred learning environment, are three that I can think of. Kids are looked at as corporate targets. They’re being taught math with Hershey’s kisses and M&M’s. It’s in the textbooks! While there was absolutely no conspiracy to do this, there is a completely uninhibited sense of the mission of the school as virtually having nothing to do with education and a tremendous amount to do with the management of populations. The US public school system is not a repairable engine because it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. It is an engine of restraint and restriction and management. No one in authority wants to fix it because they think it’s working just fine.
Here’s what all this boils down to. If anyone were to release all the genius that is pent up in any human being, we’d have a hard time maintaining the current economic system. This terrifies the people in charge, from the White House on down, as well it should! So no, they don’t want to ‘fix’ schools! Consider standardized testing, for example. From school principals to parents to students, the most common complaint that I get about the US public education system from a human rights standpoint is regarding the emphasis on tests, like the Regents exams and Sat’s, which many believe only serve to reinforce the class system. Curricula are routinely shoved aside to focus on training students in rote memorization, how to take and do well on tests. It’s all data-driven. They don’t give a rat’s ass about individual needs! You or your kids must either pass these standardized tests or you don’t get your diplomas. It’s a corporate mentality. There’s no debate about it any more because they don’t allow it!!
In a report released by the US Department of Education in late September 2003, it was lamented that too few Americans were going to college. The report showed a huge gap between what students say they want, and what they actually do. When students enter high school, 91% say they plan to go to college, according to this federally funded report. But, by the time those same students are 19 years old, 30 out of every 100 who entered ninth grade have fallen behind or dropped out, and only 38 of the 70 who earned high school diplomas enroll in college. The United States, once first in the world in college participation leading to a bachelor’s degree, now ranks 11th. While the proportion of degree-seekers has stagnated in the US, other industrial nations, such as Canada, have invested more in their systems of higher education and vocational training. It is apparently no longer true that each succeeding generation of Americans will be better educated than the one that preceded it.
The real truth is that the needs of America’s job market are changing so rapidly that a system of continuous Internet-based education for America’s entire work force and their children, one whose curriculum can be edited at will, and one that can be accessed from any Internet connection, will be essential to maintaining and enhancing the standard of living for 21st century Americans. Going to college and getting a four year degree doesn’t work like it used to, mainly because the vocation that one may be training oneself to perform may be off-shored or right-sized to the third world for only pennies on the dollar within four years or less from today. On the other hand, various accredited courses dedicated to relatively short-term Internet-based vocational education where American workers and their children can get a new degree, diploma or professional certification in only months instead of years will be far more useful than the antiquated educational system that we are all currently stuck with. Workers and managers both need to have an ongoing and continuous national education system available to them at will, so that they may compete on a global scale for jobs in the global economy of the 21st century.
Liberal education being equally and unconditionally available to everyone causes all citizens to become peers and equals, with little or no social distinction between incomes, classes and occupations. Formal or vocational education that becomes equally available to all at nominal cost via the Internet eliminates social, class and economic barriers that have existed for centuries. Unconditional social and economic equality in the 21st century includes the death of hierarchy and bureaucracy as we have known them, with the added benefit of putting the final nail in the coffin of dictatorship. With every US citizen being able to obtain advanced education repeatedly and at will regardless of economic status, the need for close employee supervision and for tiered company management within large bureaucracies will fade into history. It will be a brave new world, that’s for sure!