Schools' Promotion of Conformity Is Shortsighted, Even Absurd

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As a teacher of long standing, I constantly wonder to what depth should or could education affect the lives of the next generation.

Parents, school boards, and timid administrators forbid us to handle controversial and complex human issues or to deal with transcendent values in the classroom. And yet, these are precisely what modern life abounds with. We must "stick to the book" and "not rock the boat" and "not offend local values." How shortsighted, how narrow, how absurd.

For in that book we must "stick to" is Jonathan Edwards, a 17th-century "Jerry Falwell," whose Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is classic fear material, and controversial. Our curriculum is filled with the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson--an acknowledged genius--also an unfrocked Unitarian minister who sought truth through study of Eastern religions. Complex!

Daily lessons include reading Poe, the patron poet of his counterculture--a drug addict and reprobate; Dickinson, a neurotic recluse whose poetry searches for life's meaning and purpose; Whittier, the "fighting Quaker"; Whitman, the homosexual abolitionist and strong individualist; Hawthorne and Melville, who were obsessed with the premise of evil in a benign uni-verse; Twain, the "Norman Lear" social critic of his time who faded into atheistic melancholy and disillusionment at the end; Hemingway, a soldier of fortune and One Worlder; and Thoreau, who, in Civil Disobedience, told us to go to jail for what we believe! Don't leave out Tom Paine, the first "radical," who pushed us to look at the world with Common Sense.

There are more in the book, deep thinkers on the human condition who preach the universality of man--like T.S. Eliot, Stephen Crane, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck. Controversial? Complex? Unafraid? Every one of them! Do educators listen to them? Not at all, at least not where I teach.

Would that they were alive today to speak to the small minds who run our schools, who "play it safe," who listen to applause meters, who threaten and bully and make school like a jail for students already turned off by lock-step, sterile instruction.

Or, as Emerson would say, "Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist--nothing is sacred but the integrity of your own mind."

Young minds are a terrible thing to waste.

Vol. 02, Issue 33, Page 18

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