There are few songs I dislike more than “Another Brick in The Wall” by Pink Floyd.
As an educator, the last thing I want to do is inspire the words of the chorus:
We don’t need no education We don’t need no thought control No dark sarcasm in the classroom Teachers leave them kids alone Hey! teachers! leave the kids alone! All in all it’s just another brick in the wall. All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.
Instead of trying to control students’ thoughts, I try to support them in finding their own voices. Instead of a student becoming “another brick in the wall” (of the system?), I want her to express her unique qualities in what she chooses to do.
I do work within a system, though, and I support some of what the system teaches. For example, in my syllabus, I write that attendance is mandatory in my class. I have a variety of reasons from “if you aren’t in class, you can’t get they feedback you need to revise their papers” to “you are here for yourself, but you’re also here to support others’ learning.”
I also ask students to follow the rules of what I call “a more standard” English (since, as far as I know the US doesn’t have an official Standard language.) Writing “there” when they want the possessive “their” doesn’t fly—just to show a very, very specific example.
In some ways, I am upholding the status quo. With my attendance policy I’m “training” students to come to a “job” and “sit” and do their work. With correcting their grammar, I’m indoctrinating students into using language that is acceptable to the business world, sometimes at the cost of the language they use in their homes and communities.
And once in a while, I start to think “do I really want to do this?” Do I want to train students to be good future employees? The more frustrated I become with a 9 to 5 work day, and the more I see friends and family exhausted by the daily grind–not having the time they want with their families or not using their creative talents because they haven’t been able to make money at it–the more I question this.
I’m listening to a book on CD by Bob Proctor, a very wealthy man who writes about gaining wealth, and one point he makes is that not every educated person is financially rich and many high school and college drop-outs are rich. His point is accurate, and I believe there are many ways to learn—both in and out of school. I want students to know, though, that college can be so much more than job training.
College can transform who you are, your beliefs and values. It can help you define yourself and your goals. It can help you discover your talents and learn about careers where you can use them. As a personal example, I remember writing a paper my freshman year about how the US should adopt English as an “official” standard language, so that Spanish speakers coming to the US had to learn it (I think there was also a point in there about the US not having to provide important documents in both English and Spanish). I also had conservative views about Spanish speaking kids being taught some of their basic skills in Spanish as opposed to immersing them in English.
Fast forward let’s say 7 years and past grad school—I think very differently now—almost the opposite on each of these issues. More importantly, I have a better understanding of the complexity of the issues, I’m better at realizing things aren’t always black and white, but are situation, and finally, I developed the ability to look at issues from multiple perspectives—especially of the people involved in the issue. I also know why I think what I think.
College is also where I learned about the oppression of women and minorities. It’s where I learned about how many awesome opportunities women have in terms of work today.
I could go on and on, but in short, college was more freeing than restricting for me. It helped me find my uniqueness and it also taught me how to “play the game” or how to work within the system to achieve what I want. I also know I can work to change the system if I choose.
I think the best way to deal with my struggle of how do I support and question the status quo at the same time is to continue to teach what I value—attending class, using correct English, and exposing the power structures within the status quo as well. Can I show students that yes I’m asking them to follow the rules, and let’s look at how and when the rules are oppressive and how/when they be freeing. And have that conversation, yes college can help you get a job that pays money so you can support yourself and/or your family, but here’s what else college can be if you want it: a place to grow and change and develop a life that you want to live.
What do you think? Has school been more freeing or more controlling in your life? What do you think the message of “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd is? What do you think about that message? What are some ways you’ve learned that are not related to school?