Alert observers should have seen an interesting break from convention in the high school class of 2010. Erica Goldson, the Valedictorian for the Coxsackie-Athens Class of 2010 in Coxsackie, NY packed a skillful punch at compulsion in her candid graduation speech:
“…This is the dilemma I’ve faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective. Some of you may be thinking, ‘Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn’t you learn something?’ Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.
I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work…”
As some comments on my article Tyranny of the minority: Prop 8 and judicial activism reveal, some people assume that I’m claiming intellectual superiority by calling myself a “scholar” in my bio. That is not my intention at all. Rather, I chose the word “scholar” to reflect my passionate and independent studentship. I didn’t place the word “student” first because, as Miss Goldson eloquently illustrated, student has become almost synonymous with galley slave.
Being a student is a mindless requirement. Because American schooling is socialized and compulsory, every child who reaches enrollment age in their State must become a student. But not every student is forced to become an independent scholar. Among the definitions of the word “scholar” are “pupil” and “one who has been awarded a scholarship”. I fit both of those definitions, but only because of taking responsibility for my own education in a learning-rich environment provided by my parents. I love the sentiments of personal responsibility reflected in the way education was labeled when the Founding Fathers were growing up: a “moral duty”. That is what one would expect of a culture that embraced the Biblical principles of Deuteronomy chapter 6.
How can I call myself both a scholar who never set foot in school and a college student? A scholar, naturally, seeks a place of scholarship. Traditionally, this place of scholarship is called college. That is how a scholar who never set foot in school can become a student at a university.
Listen to what else Goldson brought up:
“H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not ‘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.’”
Although I deeply appreciate what I have been learning in college, I must admit that I have observed drawbacks in contemporary higher education that are very similar to what Erica Goldson saw in high school. The capacities of professors and students alike are determined by an invisible checkrein that results from a futile quest to commercialize genius.
“…For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth…
…I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, those who maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me, but I hope this farewell is more of a “see you later” when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. But first, let’s go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we’re smart enough to do so!”
I agree, Erica. Hopefully we will have an academic revolution in due time!
UPDATE: When I said that “American schooling is socialized and compulsory,” I meant socialized as in conforming to socialism.
Amanda Read is an unconventional scholar, a Southerner without an accent, a Christian who hasn’t been a churchgoer in 16 years and a college student who lives with eight younger siblings. A writer and artist, she blogs at www.amandaread.com and is the author of the historical drama screenplay The Crusading Chemist. Amanda is majoring in history and minoring in political science at Jacksonville State University.
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