My youngest daughter graduated from high school this year, or as I like to call it, the government indoctrination center. I had the opportunity to attend her commencement. It was surprisingly not as boring as I thought it was going to be. A retiring English teacher gave a pretty good speech she called "Search and Re-search." It was quite entertaining as she went about explaining how she came up with her title because she was doing her own research at the time, how she turned to the Internet like so many of her students had done for their assignments, how she found so many great graduation speeches she could have plagiarized (but didn't). She then went on to quote a litany of memories, both good and bad, that various students provided and a lot of various tidbits of wisdom handed down to us by famous philosophers of times passed. She did, of course, throw in her own little commentaries to tie it all together. It was quite well done and I applauded her along with all those listening when she finished.
Her speech got me to thinking. I wondered how I would address a gymnasium full of graduating teenagers and their parents. More than that, I began to wonder about the real worth of a regimented state education. I know there are all kinds of traditions and platitudes attached to such occasions, and I wouldn't want to diminish that kind of "feel good" atmosphere, so I wondered what kind of a speech I could give from a freedom perspective to such a statist organization. After all, schools depend on your tax dollars taken from you under the threat of losing your home to the local "authorities" if you don't pay. They will kill you if you defend your home when they try to take it. They are, in essence, a monopoly organization you must pay whether you use their services or not, and they use the violence and the threat of violence inherent in government to make sure you don't even think about not paying.
It would certainly be hard to point out, in a feel good way, that the salutatorians and valedictorian have really only shown that they are better at following directions than any of the other students. They are, in essence, the most obedient sheep in the herd. Of course to point this out would be taboo, and it could possibly cause some young mind to stop striving for this accomplishment. I also noticed, in this class, that the three young people honored for their academic achievements all planned on becoming teachers. The statist system has reproduced in them its own mindset so as to continue its indoctrination process into the future.
Perhaps I could think of something that would encourage these young people to think outside the pyramid, to coin a new phrase from an old one. Perhaps I could suggest that these kids who want to become teachers within the system instead create a new system. Perhaps I could suggest that instead of spending all that money on additional education they may not necessarily need, they take that same money and start their own private school in the community. After all, aren't we actually sliding downhill when it comes to education? You have only to compare standard eighth grade tests a hundred years ago to the tests today's youths take to see what I mean. Perhaps they will be able to come up with better ways of learning, better ways of teaching. Isn't it better, after all, to have more people trying to solve problems and to have more solutions in practice to see what works and what doesn't than to have one system, a monopoly, stifling innovation by regulating from the top down and discouraging the inclusion of some ideas? Private, community schools wouldn't be subject to the dictates of the federal or the state governments so long as it was funded solely by the students and/or their parents.
I could point out that such a school wouldn't have to start out large. It could be small, perhaps attracting students who would otherwise be home schooled. Different methods of teaching could be used and personalized depending on the student, as could curriculum choices. The school would likely grow quickly as students enrolled in such a school would likely outperform students in state run schools. The competition would be good for all involved as the best and worst methods could be ferreted out and individualized learning shown to help each child obtain the fullest of his own personal potential.
It would also be difficult, on such an occasion, to point out that not everyone is cut out for academics. In the modern era of "no child left behind" no one seems to want to hear that education is not the "end all be all" that some would have you believe. Perhaps I could mention that there is nothing wrong with physical labor. There is nothing wrong with working hard to make a living. There is nothing wrong with learning a trade or doing menial labor to support yourself and your family. Some people may, in fact, find these things enjoyable.
There is far too much emphasis these days put on academics, in my opinion. If one finds that his calling is working with his hands or his muscles, than there is nothing wrong with the idea of taking an apprenticeship rather than continuing an academic course. It may seem counter intuitive to point out that diplomas and degrees aren't worth as much when more people earn them, but that message might become more readily acceptable when it is pointed that that no one should feel shame for working hard physically or at a trade. It might be more digestible when examples of successful tradesmen can be found, some who might make more than people who have earned college degrees.
I'd like to suggest to new graduates that it might not be such a good idea to go into debt to further one's academic pursuits. I doubt very much this would be an acceptable message at a commencement ceremony. Take the time to think through in a critical fashion what it is you really want to do to make a living, and then consider whether or not you really need training in an academic setting, or whether you might not be better off learning hands on in a work environment and getting paid at the same time. Certainly there are careers that require a higher education, but are they worth going into so much debt for? One may need to be licensed to be a doctor, for instance, but one can pursue other avenues to become a healer. There is a wealth of information available in this world for all to access, and a good reputation for helpful customer service is worth far more than all the paper documentation that you've completed x amount of coursework in the world.
What commencement speech would be complete without some mention of the memories one has built in their high school years? While certain classroom stunts and schoolyard hijinks may be memorable, it would seem inappropriate to mention the memories that were lost as a result of being forced to go to school. There would be the time spent with family, with moms and dads, sisters and brothers, that could not be because you were in school. There would be memories of trips to town, or to the woods, or to a stream, or to a place of work, to learn first hand about commerce, or nature, or production of goods, or even the tedium that is adult life. It seems to me that our children are kept children for far too long and not given the opportunity to make decisions for themselves soon enough. Learning is something we all should do every day for as long as we live. It is not exclusive to schools. Childhood memories can be magical, but my best memories always happened outside of school hours. How many more of those would I have if I hadn't been stuck in the Prussian system of learning that was set up in this country long before I was born?
I could conclude with some statement of the future. I don't know how acceptable it'd be to mention that it doesn't look so bright if we remain upon the collectivist path we've been going down for far too long. I could say something about the importance of tradition and how they will look fondly upon their past, but I'd like to propose that they make their own new traditions. Rather than holding a graduation where all are wearing the same color gown and the same square hat, I'd like to see a graduation where everyone dressed as they liked. I'd like to see them all be themselves. I'd like to see them express their individuality. It is, after all, their individuality that will make the greatest impact on the world. Perhaps such a tradition could be started at the new schools I suggested earlier.
The future belongs to the graduates. They can continue to go along to get along as has been happening for too many decades now, or they can realize their individuality and start refusing to simply continue to follow along with the collectivist mindset espoused by those seeking answers through big government. They can decide to work hard to set up a free society where individual effort is rewarded. In order to do this, I'm afraid many of them will have to have certain lessons unlearned. There are other ways to view things than the ways taught in modern schools. I hope the graduates look into these alternative viewpoints with an open mind and decide for themselves which points of view make the most sense. Perhaps then, they can look fondly into the future rather than upon the past.