11 August 2010

2010.08.11_fuck school!

This may not seem related to expropriation, but it is (see *) (and also I couldn't post it on my other blog because it references my current location).

Since I've been here, my brain has frequently revisited the topic of learning languages, and I've convinced myself that learning a foreign language in the school system is a really lame idea, if not impossible. Some personal examples coming. I studied Italian for YEARS in the university system, and could subsequently speak trivialities if I tried really hard. I lived in Italy for five months and could finally hold a meaningful conversation. I studied Spanish in high school for years and could order a taco, but could never remember if I wanted it caliente or picante. I've lived in Argentina for 11 months and can almost effortlessly maintain a philosophical and political argument about why gays should be able to adopt.

I think the reasons for these phenomenon are common sense, if not obvious. In high school, you're not given a choice -- you're obligated to take a foreign language, and you're involuntarily dropped into a relatively non-interactive, highly-structured, disempowering, artificial, and non-gratifying environment. In the university, you get to choose to enter a relatively non-interactive ... non-gratifying environment. In short, this artificial environment abstracts us from what should be the real goal, which is not to get the teacher to give you a good grade, but to be able to talk to people in the desired language. (Very much like the conventional work environment abstracts us from the real goal, which shouldn't be the compensation, but the finished product as a contribution to society.*)

For me this raises questions about our school system in general. If we learn foreign languages better in a real-world -- interactive, dynamic, empowering, and gratifying -- environment, why not other things. Maybe without the pressure-induced, mind-numbing, mechanical learning experience of school, the inherent desire to explore and learn and progress -- the one that we were all born with -- could prevail. Maybe the school system is what's killing us; teaching us to go for the grade instead of seeking real personal development; teaching us to obey authority instead of driving our destiny; teaching us to be taught instead of teaching us to learn.

Setting aside the environment (as if it could be set aside). and ignoring material issues (like disney-approved U.S. History stories), the status quo learning process raises questions itself. Why do we have to learn math for years so we can use it in something applicable like astronomy or computers? Why do we have to nail grammar structure before we can use it something interesting like a conversation? I'm not saying that there is no place for math or grammar -- I am a seriously huge fan of both -- I just don't see why we can't just jump in and learn the fundamental basics through experience, through the process of learning what we ultimately want to be learning. Unless what you ultimately want to learn is math or grammar, which is totally cool. What I'm trying to say is that our system is largely based on the delay of gratification, and delay of gratification is... not gratifying.

Maybe those rebel kids that wrote "fuck school" on their binders were right the whole time. Maybe California is on the right track, and the next step is to shut down ALL the schools. Maybe school told Google it would be a good idea to ruin the internet. Maybe school is NOT cool.

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