Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"we are all valedictorians"

do read this wonderful speech by top of the class student Erica Goldson during the graduation ceremony at Coxsackie-Athens High School on June 25, 2010.

a telling commentary on the current public education system in the USA. it is quite the same in India whichever education service provider you choose (government/private).
Erica lays it out quite dramatically...
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.

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.


Alexander Berger said...

I obviously know a lot less about how it works in India than you do, but I don't think Erica is speaking for all American high school students. When I was the valedictorian, I felt that I was given greater opportunities to explore than many of the other students in my school, who had less (academic) freedom because of the perception that they would not use it wisely. It is certainly true that many students, obsessed with the idea of attending a prestigious university, toil away on the academic treadmill throughout high school, without actually developing as independent thinkers or people. But the American system of undergraduate higher education, which is devoted, at least at the top levels, to liberal education does allow people to step off the treadmill. New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a famous article for The Atlantic ( claiming that even higher education now in the U.S. now suffers from the same ailments, but I haven't found that to be the case.

I see the problem more in the opposite terms that Erica does. In the excerpt you post, she bemoans the fact that rather than joining her peers in doodling, and writing, she was working within the system. Her concern seems to be that she would be better off having done what they did; my fear is for the people who doodle not out of some free-spirited artistry but because they were never taught to read, because the teachers are inaccessible or don't care, because the subject matter is irrelevant for their future lives. Some high school students doodle because they are enlightened, but most do it because they are lost or bored. That's an indictment of the system, not an endorsement.

But her speech shows that the education system she has benefited from has at least allowed her the level of reflection necessary to reject it. She acknowledges this, but underestimates its importance.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the language is prose like and can serve as a good writeup but interestingly a high school grader if she can express her thoughts in this form, she surely has learnt skills of reflective thinking, articulation and more than anything else, the virtue in working hard.

In terms of her views probably she needs some more experience to understand the value that she already has derived from her schooling. Thus if she figures out what she needs to do even 5 years from now, she would still do it with the same commitment level which helped her in getting grades.

Criticizing entire systems which have added significant value to society and economy at several levels sounds naive.

csm said...

alex - of course erica is not talking for all high school students just as you are not doing the same.

she does point out a saviour in her English teacher, who i would conclude, is a rarity is most education systems. so she is still correct in making her point on the system being inert (anon - please note this point).

alex - the very fact that there is a treadmill is the exact point of her speech (as i understand). the treadmill is the destructive device.

anon - how do you conclude that tremendous value has been added?
i would contend that tremendous value has been eroded.

whatsinaname said...

Veteran TED speaker Ken Robinson has been critical of educational system for quite sometime. Erica is essentially saying the same. I would advice Alex and anon to get to know Ken Robinson's views, for more authoritative opinion, if Erica is too inexperienced.

I agree with what Erica expressed!

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't want to contend you or anyone since I believe its a subject too vast for a forum of this nature and is anyways being debated globally.
Taking any side robs me the freedom to examine your or even my perspective.

No one said that the system is foolproof. Neither me, not Erica, nor Ken Robinson nor Gardner or Dewey or anyone else.

The technology system which we are using to have this dialogue or which Robinson used to have his presentation made use of minds of several hundreds of people who have emerged from the same schools and hence thats a significant value that they have created. Be it Internet, Google, Facebook, Youtube etc etc. Its like Erica who uses the same language skill to criticise the system which gave her that skill.

About significant contribution - The advancement in drug discovery and healthcare is a value add to society.
The work of art and literature is a value add to the society just like the infrasture that allows us to tread all over the globe.

The ability to think and create solutions for a better tomorrow is a capacity developed through this system of learning.

Ability to create a financial structure to all progress is a value add but inability to protect that structure is where the value was not addded well.

Unless an alternative to a market based system and a completely self governing model can be created (by contesting Plato)for the society, you can't examine the question in complete vacuum.

Either you say you have an alternative of the concept of Government and a way of structuring human potential other than what Adam Smith propounded, or else you may not be able to come with an alternative.

csm said...

wina - thanks for the ken info. i have heard him and have agreed fully with his views.

anon - agree that this forum is incorrect for such a debate.

i have a thought on the alternate, but it is not something i am ready to propound now.
as the cliche goes - lets agree to disagree.

Anonymous said...

I think Erica's opinion is biased. Look at the folks come out of our own IIT. We know the drill to get into IIT. Lots and lots of brilliant minds from IIT making difference in all walks of life


Alexander Berger said...

Another related article of interest:

Unknown said...


Don't even get me started on the benefits of IIT. Since you seem to be so smitten by IIT bug I want to remind you about its pitfalls.

IIT success is a myth that can only be explained within a narrow context, once you see the broader context, you can understand the "REAL" nature of IIT's success.

To give you a single example that IIT ed is wrong, look so many IIT-ians are in information technology jobs even though they went in to learn other engineering disciplines.

Since this will be long and never ending reply, I restrict myself here, otherwise I could go on and on.

csm said...

prathapan - are you the earlier anons too?
IITs are suspect examples of good education. i am a product of it, and most of the important things that i learnt for life were in her playgrounds :-)

wina - temper please.

alex - india and most of the established eastern cultural traditions are being scorched away. i agree with martha and when she says, "but it is unwise to assume that democratic traditions can thrive in the absence of education for democratic citizenship." - i am nodding away sagely.
there are but a few schools which allow such development in their students. far too few.

Prathapan said...

I agree to disagree with your view on IIT.
Do you mean I made both the posts (prathpan & whatsinaname!).
Answer :no

- Prathapan

dv said...

phew! what a great debate.
do you notice only the educated seem to discuss education.
the one virtue of formal education that i value is learning to cope and relate with peers. and perchance, learn from uniqueness-es swirling in the classroom.
i hardly remember the lessons, but value the bunch of people who grew to be friends.

csm said...

pratapan - the comment #2 and 5 are by anonymous.
you also posted as anonymous (albeit signing off).
did you post the earlier anon comments too?

dv - do the educated class ever discuss anything with the uneducated class?
while the educated are typing away inanities in the garb of deep intellectual debate, the uneducated are toiling away creating real value.

Mayank said...

"do the educated class ever discuss anything with the uneducated class?
while the educated are typing away inanities in the garb of deep intellectual debate, the uneducated are toiling away creating real value"

Sorry to say this but find these views deeply cynical. Seems you have a lot of grouse within you. Relax a bit. It may affect your well being. Life has its good and bad shades across stratas of society.

Neither are all educated dealing with inanities and neither are uneducated creating real value alone. There is value in every effort done with love. Be it coming from educated or uneducated. World is more complex than this assumption.

I wish you more pleasant experiences in life. At farm and beyond.

kpt said...

mayank, while every effort could have some value, its the compensation provided for the efforts that is tainted.
why should buying and selling commodities in the air be more valuable than actually toiling towards growing those commodities?
when there seems to be little hope towards equity, it does turn one a bit cynical and even a little angry. i do not think we should let go of this anger but channel it towards something positive.

ziyyaraedutech said...

Online home tuition in Bangalore is the need of the hour as school learning is not enough, thus students are seeking online home tutors in Bangalore to clear their concepts.
Call Our Experts :- +91-9654271931