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Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling in Graduation Speech

• AmericaViaErica.blogspot.com

Comment: The following speech was delivered by top of the class student Erica Goldson during the graduation ceremony at Coxsackie-Athens High School on June 25, 2010

 

Here I Stand
Erica Goldson

There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, "If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, then replied, " Ten years . ." The student then said, "But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast -- How long then?" Replied the Master, "Well, twenty years." "But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?" asked the student. " Thirty years," replied the Master. "But, I do not understand," said the disappointed student. "At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?" 
Replied the Master, "When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path."

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. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I'm scared.

John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, asserts, “We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids into truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. But we don't do that.” Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt.

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. (Gatto)

To illustrate this idea, doesn't it perturb you to learn about the idea of “critical thinking.” Is there really such a thing as “uncritically thinking?” To think is to process information in order to form an opinion. But if we are not critical when processing this information, are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth?

This was happening to me, and if it wasn't for the rare occurrence of an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan, who allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, I would have been doomed. I am now enlightened, but my mind still feels disabled. I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this ostensibly sane place really is.

And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.

We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special, so aren't we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.

The saddest part is that the majority of students don't have the opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can't run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be - but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.

For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, do not be disheartened. You still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical, and create your own perspective. Demand a setting that will provide you with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it. Demand that you be interested in class. Demand that the excuse, “You have to learn this for the test” is not good enough for you. Education is an excellent tool, if used properly, but focus more on learning rather than getting good grades.

For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake.

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.

So, here I stand. I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. I was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. I couldn't have accomplished this without all of you. It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of you who were my competition, yet my backbone. In that way, we are all valedictorians.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

6 Comments in Response to

Comment by Anonymous
Entered on:

To Skip Robinson: This is a reprint of the first one that did not print corrrectly when it was submitted.

Skip Robinson … You really live up to your name! You always Skip the point of my comment and go direct to personal insult. This is only the best you can do – watch authors and engage them in personal insults as a favorite pastime. I must tell you to let you know that only bankrupt minds hide in bad-mouthing because they don’t know how to argue like the learned or the educated do.

You were sure "our education system is poor". I have no quarrel with that. That’s your opinion, not mine. I always respect others’ opinion. I am afraid I might even agree with you knowing now how this "poor educational system" reflects your behavior --- no different from this school spoiled brat that the "poor educational system" produced. The truth is, the best minds the world over were educated in the best universities of the United States – didn’t you ever know that? How long have you been out of touch?

But the point of my comment Skip that you again skipped can be found in my concluding statement, and let me point this out to you by quoting the line: "This and many more in this "strange" valedictory address indicate a sinister pen being used to slay the hated dragon called the United States of America." Is this too deep for you? This should be the point your freaking mind should focus on and argue against, if you are able to or if you have something to give out coming from above your shoulder where your threatening brain muscle bulges, which is quite a space or quite a distance away from the cerebrum -- if you have one like I have.

But themy concluding statement, and let me point this out to you by quoting the line: "This and many more in this "strange" valedictory address indicate a sinister pen being used to slay the hated dragon called the United States of America." Is this too deep for you? This should be the point your freaking mind should focus on and argue against, if you are able to or if you have something to give out coming from above your shoulder where your threatening brain muscle bulges, which is quite a space or quite a distance away from the cerebrum -- if you have one like I have.

The premise you miserably missed is that I find it rather odd – extraordinarily weird -- for a student to follow the system of school instructions brilliantly and made her graduate on top of her class as valedictorian, when she confessed she in fact was against it, or hated it deep down the marrow of her bones! That’s not normal or natural thinking of a lucid or coherent mind of a student that graduated valedictorian – it is clearly confused or messed up if not sick, which is common to spoiled brats or rebellious juvenile delinquents in most liberal, undisciplined American homes. If you are not strangely fascinated by this oddity or abnormality, I am. But then I am not you, or you can never be like me even if you transmute or evolve in a million years into something better than what you are now. I don’t expect that metamorphoses or transmutation to occur, not even in the lifetime of dinosaurs that vanished from this planet.

Knowing what you can do and what I can do, or knowing how limited you are and how unlimited I am for our millions of readers to learn from this forum, do you still think you deserve to be here more than I do? C’mon, let’s make some sense out of what you lack or obviously don’t have upstairs.

Comment by Anonymous
Entered on:

Skip Robinson … You really live up to your name! You always Skip the point of my comment and go direct to personal insult. This is only the best you can do – watch writers like me and engage them in personal insults as a favorite pastime. I must tell you to let you know that only bankrupt minds hide in bad-mouthing because they don’t know how to argue like the learned or the educated do.

You were sure "our education system is poor". I have no quarrel with that. That’s your opinion, not mine. I always respect others’ opinion. I am afraid I might even agree with you knowing now how this "poor educational system" reflects your behavior --- no different from this school spoiled brat that the "poor educational system" produced. The truth is, the best minds the world over were educated in the best universities of the United States – didn’t you ever know that? How long have you been out of touch?

But the point of my comment Skip that you again skipped can be found in my concluding statement, and let me point this out to you by quoting the line: "This and many more in this "strange" valedictory address indicate a sinister pen being used to slay the hated dragon called the United States of America." Is this too deep for you? This should be the point your freaking mind should focus on and argue against, if you are able to or if you have something to give out coming from above your shoulder where your threatening brain muscle bulges, which is quite a space or quite a distance away from the cerebrum -- if you have one like I have.

But themy concluding statement, and let me point this out to you by quoting the line: "This and many more in this "strange" valedictory address indicate a sinister pen being used to slay the hated dragon called the United States of America." Is this too deep for you? This should be the point your freaking mind should focus on and argue against, if you are able to or if you have something to give out coming from above your shoulder where your threatening brain muscle bulges, which is quite a space or quite a distance away from the cerebrum -- if you have one like I have.

The premise you miserably missed is that I find it rather odd – extraordinarily weird -- for a student to follow the system of school instructions brilliantly and made her graduate on top of her class as valedictorian, when she confessed she in fact was against it, or hated it deep down the marrow of her bones! That’s not normal or natural thinking of a lucid or coherent mind of a student that graduated valedictorian – it is clearly confused or messed up if not sick, which is common to spoiled brats or rebellious juvenile delinquents in most liberal, undisciplined American homes. If you are not strangely fascinated by this oddity or abnormality, I am. But then I am not you, or you can never be like me even if you transmute or evolve in a million years into something better than what you are now. I don’t expect that metamorphoses or transmutation to occur, not even in the lifetime of dinosaurs that vanished from this planet.

Knowing what you can do and what I can do, or knowing how limited you are and how unlimited I am for our millions of readers to learn from this forum, do you still think you deserve to be here more than I do? C’mon, let’s make some sense out of what you lack or obviously don’t have upstairs. Seek your level or look for your company -- the bad and the ugly -- in some other websites that can accommodate your kind. Trust me. You cannot remain a sore eye in this forum forever! Your presence is very bad for business.

 

Comment by Skip Robinson
Entered on:

Bakdude,

Once again, you just don't seem to get it. Every comment I read by you, you appear to miss the moral of the story.  Our education system is poor and the current state of the Union is a partial testament of this.  Our various large institutions such as the judiciary, congress, and the central bank are corrupt and breaking key components of our Consitution and you call the student who is telling the truth, "spoiled" because that is the best that you can obviously come up with. Please get off this site. Post somewhere else - try the progressive, socialist, communist and fascist sites.  Trust me you'll feel more at home there.  

Comment by Anonymous
Entered on:

       A spoiled brat can be a valedictorian of our school system she is vehemently against! She had regretted instructions she had followed well in order to graduate on top of her class. She hated the educational system that created her like an automaton in the world of robots. She had wished her teachers were free of their choices on what to teach, not ORDERED what to teach. 

What a screwed up thinking of a juvenile delinquent in school that just turned out 18 to graduate as valedictorian. Of course there must be ORDER on what to teach in school. An English school teacher who loves Karate is not free to teach martial art instead of English in an English class as a matter of free choice, which this graduate is trying to advocate. A left-leaning professor assigned [or in the words of anti-system juvenile delinquents “ordered”] by the school to teach religion who believes by radical reasoning that 911 is the fault of Americans, cannot teach his class of the right of Al Qaeda to blow us up to kingdom come and glorify Islam in the name of academic freedom. This and many more in this “strange” valedictory address indicate a sinister pen being used to slay the hated dragon called the United States of America.

 

Comment by Justen Robertson
Entered on:

Excellent. I wish I had been exposed to Gatto while I was still in school. Perhaps understanding the cause behind the problems I perceived intuitively would have given me direction, a voice, and a reason to fight back - rather than simple frustration, rebellion, and listlessness. Most of my time in school was spent devising new ways to steal back my time from a patently corrupt and counterproductive system; the remainder that I successfully reclaimed was spent learning, in spite of the aims of the institution rather than assisted by them. I am proud of what I did accomplish; the little victories I claimed were precious to me, but the larger defeats still enrage me when I reflect on them. Like this author, I doubt I'll ever reclaim the 11 years of my life I lost to the mass indoctrination system, and in the 11 that have followed I feel I've barely lived up to the potential I may have had at their start but for this monstrosity.

Comment by Aaron Stichter
Entered on:

Love this!

We are going to experience a long depression in this country and our people need to wake up and realize that we all need to adopt a simpler way of life.  Jobs are being outsourced and eliminated due to technology advances, lack of competitive resources and demographics that favors thrift and saving.

It is no longer prudent to borrow a bunch of money to get any degree and trust to have a paying career.  We need to accept that we will need to take care of each other and live humble simple lives off our little share of the Earth we can claim.

 

The second point after reading this is that children are capable of SO MUCH MORE than learning tests.  Introducing them to the community and challenging them to be a part would be very fruitful towards harvesting a more beautiful citizenry in thought, intellect and caring. 



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