I have included two links above. The first contains the written version of a valedictorian’s graduation speech. The second link is a video of her actually giving that speech. This speech embodies my motivation to study Free Schools. In my studies at UIC I found a grave disconnect between the way schools ought to be and the way they are. The speaker states, "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… 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."It is obvious that she learned to "play the game" yet has no genuine interests or passions. The education system she took part in prepared her for a life of materialism and thoughtless work. Eric Goldson, like many other Americans yearned for something more. She wanted to see herself as unique and well rounded. The system that educated her was not set up to promote this sort of independence.
Erica’s speech eloquently and accurately portrays the disconnect I saw between what schools do and what they ought to do. However, it was the book Love Justice and Education by William Schubert that first inspired my research. In this book, Schubert takes the viewpoint of a Utopian when considering education. He based the book on a short article by John Dewey titled, “Dewey Outlines Utopian Schools”. Schubert describes Utopia as a place with no schools. He points out the difference between school and education, and calls for a focus on how humans deal with problems in everyday life versus the study of isolated bits of information. That which resembles a school is actually more akin to a home in Schubert and Dewey’s Utopia. It is a welcoming place that is filled with love. Rather than have content objectives, this sort of learning aims to develop life. In other words, individuals learn for the sake of learning, not a materialistic ends. In addition, a Utopian education would value what a student values versus focusing on his deficits. This idea was of particular value to me. I have become fed up with the focus on test scores in this day and age.
I found great comfort in the concept of focusing on a child’s strengths versus his weakness. Schubert wrote, “Instead of valuing their own inevitable learning as a natural internal guide, members of the middle class are pushed to value externally awarded credentials that only provide a costume of success-test scores, work reports, diplomas, certificates of performance on the job, and so on. This great hoax is perpetuated by having the middle class teeter on a precipice of just enough contentment that its loss makes the costs of revolt seem too severe to endure.” This quote reminds me of the “proles” in George Orwell’s 1984. While they are considered lower class in that book, their plight is the same. Wilson, the main character, comments that if there is ever hope of a revolution it lies in the proles. However, the one time he thinks they are revolting it turns out to be a squabble over a cooking pot. In this dystopian society, people are just content enough not to overturn the system. The power lies with them, yet they are too caught up in trivialities to realize they could better their lives. As things become more and more out of hand with America’s obsession with test scores, I can’t help feeling as if we’re moving away from Dewey’s Utopia and towards Orwell’s dystopia. This blog is an attempt to process my thoughts on how we might better our currently mismanaged and misguided system and work towards a more Utopian and democratic education system.