9.14.2020

On the Terrible Tryanny of School


This picture is horrific to me and says so much about school: line them up! Make them sit, like little prisoners, while we harass and harangue them with some state mandated syllabi created by morons in a room far from here.


I have to be honest, when I think about tyranny I rarely think about the state. This is due, in part, to the relative luxury I enjoy being middle class and white. When I see cops, I rarely assume they'll stop and frisk, harass, or shoot me. Indeed, my relationship to the tyranny of the state is rarely so immediate. But this doesn't mean the state isn't tyrannical; it means it's masked itself as simply what we do.

I like to say that the first time I felt the strong arm of the state was when I was applying to college. Ronald Reagan was president and he'd instituted mandatory registration for the draft. The punishment for failing to do so was relatively mild but had a significant effect on me — a refusal of federal student loans. So, with great hesitation, I marched myself into the local post office and registered for said draft, writing a large "CO" in yellow highlighter over the form and, in the white space at the bottom, wrote what I'd learned I should write to build my case for being a conscientious objector: I object to all wars in any form.

But this story leaves out a more explicit coercion of my body by the state: I went to school. Every day. Very early in the morning — like, absurdly early in the morning. I left school out as an example of state tyranny as it never even occurred to me that this was the state forcing me to do things. It never occurred to me not to go to school. And that's because, unlike war, school was situated in another form of tyranny — a much more powerful, more insidious form: the discourse of my home. What we valued at home coincided, in the case of school, with the state's mandate.

Now, the state demanded I attend school for such and such a time — you had to attend until 16 in New York; but it's 18 in California — more on that in a moment. Unlike many laws that are enforced haphazardly — for instance, pot was illegal my whole childhood and yet was readily available — the law stipulating we go to school is indeed enforced. In fact, the present vice-presidential candidate for the Democratic party, a former Attorney General of California, sought to rigorously enforce these laws, threatening to jail parents whose kids were truant. The law demanding we attend school is not one easily parried or ignored without serious repercussions.

Which, you have to admit, is kind of odd: why is the state so adamant about where our children spend their days? The problem with protesting it is it sounds like I don't care about children. All I can hear is the "Simpsons," "Won't somebody please think of the children?" I do care about my child; I just can't figure out why the state cares so much — and thinks it knows better than I do what's good for my son (and better than he, at 16, knows. Sixteen! And he's forced into these re-education camps every day! It's insane).

And yet, when it came to school, it wasn't just the state coercing me. It was my family. School mattered in my house. Every night at dinner, we talked about school. I never questioned this. But I was aware that, in elementary and middle school, my indifference to academics was frowned on around my dining room table. To this day, they tell the story of how all I wanted to talk about was gym — and isn't that hilarious? Whereas the state only demanded I attend in body, my family demanded I attend with all of myself. Now that is powerful power!

As a parent myself, though, this has changed. Unlike my parents, I have a wide definition of what might be called education but see almost none of it reflected in these schools. So I don't feel my son should spend his days dealing with the ingrained idiocy and ideology of schooling.

My son is bright in so many ways. But, for the most part, none of those ways are the subject of his so-called education. This is of no matter to his schools or the state. He must attend — or we face the intrusion of the most horrible state institution, social services. Our decision not to send our son to school so he can learn and do different kinds of things — that is, be a human being — could be construed as negligent parenting, punishable by jail and worse.

And, in California, no one under 18 can legally work without having passed some state exam proving you've mastered their curricula. This is true madness to me: to deny his right to earn money without giving money in turn is downright egregious. If my son is legally not allowed to work — and I'm not taking about child labor laws; my son is 16 — then the state should be providing the income that he could be generating. The fact that this is never mentioned, never an issue, never on a ballot, never part of any politician's platform tells you everything: it is simply the norm. And nothing is more powerful that entering the status of the norm.

As parents, we have no choice in the matter. Sure, resources allowing, we can send my son to private school or, the better option, home school. But both private school and home schooling are still under the yoke of the state's force and, worse, its vehement stupidity — those darned mandated syllabi that demands my son regurgitate various forms of math equations.

Now, perhaps that doesn't sound so tyrannical. But I sometimes think of it from my son's perspective: his body and time is fundamentally controlled by the state for an alarming percentage of his life. And not only is he not learning a thing from their syllabi, he's made to feel bad about himself as the core of these curricula are reading and math, the two things his dyslexic, dyscalculiac self sucks at. And there's nothing he can do about it. The state is fucking up my kid and both he and I are helpless to do anything about it. It's infuriating.

These, then, are the lessons I try to teach my son about school. School, especially in California, is the tyranny of morons backed by a police state apparatus. Know that. And then figure out how to make your way through it without making your life worse — how to do minimal work but make it seem like you're trying; when to fake being sick so you're liberated at least for a bit; how to turn assignments into something that serves your own interests such as learning new software or starting a business. This, I tell him, is the only lesson from school: learning to operate in a system run through with idiocy and enforced by morons with real power over you.

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On the Terrible Tryanny of School

This picture is horrific to me and says so much about school: line them up! Make them sit, like little prisoners, while we harass and haran...