“From the diary of a six year old boy at the American School in Tangier Morocco: “I get up at 8:30. I eat my breakfast. Then I go to the job.”

When asked what he meant by the job he said, “school of course.”

William S. Burroughs , The Job

Expand full comment
May 21·edited May 21Liked by John Steppling, Hiroyuki Hamada

My own experience of education is that it was only the earliest period that was beneficial. This was the primary school phase where the basics (reading, writing and arithmetic) were taught. But there was also a sense of flowering in which the pupils felt valued individually and I recall the encouragement of discussions and those wonderful times when we were asked to write stories and then read them out to the class.

Then came secondary school and all that promise was undone by a switch to a much bigger arena in which the pupils went from class to class as if on a conveyor belt in an assembly line. The education was divided up into topics that didn’t seem related to each other.

I did a teacher training course later on where one of the lecturers made an astute observation. He noted that many children experience a huge regression when moving to secondary school and the underlying feeling in the pupil is that “These people don’t love me anymore”. It sounds sentimental but it’s true. The pupils no longer feel valued. And the fragmented nature of the system makes it much tougher for even the most conscientious teachers to show an interest in any specific pupil. Indeed, the inevitable effect in terms of the impression made on the pupils is that the teachers are a cold and remote lot who are mainly fixed on their necessary roles as wage earners.

And this is the true education in this phase. This is what the teachers REALLY teach though they are unaware of it. What they are really saying is: “You will have to eventually make a living by earning money. And no matter what you choose to do, it will be dreary and dreadful. Meanwhile, that which you truly value is of no use to this world. Thus you can devote what little free time you have on your own interests but these will only ever be a private matter. No-one else will care about them.”

The atomisation of modern society is enacted in this sad educational progression.

Expand full comment
May 21Liked by John Steppling, Hiroyuki Hamada

I recall one incident at secondary school which really serves as a revelation as to the underlying attitude of the teachers to the pupils. Somebody came up with the potentially illuminating notion of individually asking the pupils what they wanted to be. My interviewer was a sour chemistry teacher who obviously didn’t want to be there. I told him I wanted to be a writer. He said the dumbest thing anyone ever said to me: “Oh you have to be famous to do that!”

Consider the implications of this response:

First, it doesn’t even make sense. I have to be a famous writer before I can be a writer? Or do I have to become famous some other way first? (Thus devaluing the very idea of simply being a writer!)

Second, isn’t aiming to be a writer one of the ambitions that you’d expect the school to want to encourage? It’s an intellectual activity. It doesn’t cost much. And it’s surely preferably to vandalism. If this cynical teacher couldn’t be bothered encouraging me himself, he could have got in touch with the English department to let them know.

Third, think of what is revealed about this teacher’s expectations of his pupils. He clearly didn’t think any of them had a chance of becoming famous. They were all destined for the grind of factory work.

Expand full comment

Lex brought up Blood Meridian, which I am reading again right now along with Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the rise and Fall of the Comanche Tribe that dominated the Texas lands into Mexico. I agree that understanding the ideology of Manifest Destiny in the US is a prerequisite for Americans to understand what is going on with Israel. The concept of "from the river to the sea" has its counterpart in "from sea to shining sea" with the edict to make all the lands of North American barren of indigenous.

Expand full comment