Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Common Schools

by AJ

"I do not wish to flatter my townsmen, nor be flattered by them, for that will not advance either of us. We need to be provoked,-- goaded like oxen, as we are, into a trot. We have a comparatively decent system of common schools, schools for infants only;... but no school for ourselves. We spend more on almost any article of bodily aliment or ailment than on our mental ailment. It is time that we had uncommon schools, that we did not leave off our education when we begin to be men and women. It is time that villages were universities, and their elder inhabitants the fellows of universities, with leisure-- to pursue liberal studies the rest of their lives. "

Written about 150 years ago, by Henry David Thoreau

Not much has changed, in the sense that our schools are still terribly common and infantile. "It is time that villages were universities....", and perhaps time that schools were villages.

Today we are just as complacent as were Americans in Thoreau's time. We lumber along, content with mediocre schools. We accept boring as "normal". We treat our adult students like children... infantilizing them.

This was the most maddening thing, for me, about teaching at Thammasat University. I couldnt accept that 18-22 year olds should be controlled, scolded, and babied. Jesus, exactly when do we acknowledge people as autonomous adults? For most schools, apparently never.

We do indeed need to be provoked and goaded. We live in a rapidly changing world. Technology is hurtling us towards unknown vistas. Cultures, societies, and races are mixing. Now, more than ever, we need uncommon schools.

Im often criticized for being "unrealistic". Or for being "shrill" or "too openly subversive". Yet my little blog posts are amazingly tame. If Im what passes for subversive and radical in education, mediocrity is more entrenched than I ever imagined.

Can we not at least aim for something greater? Where has "realism" gotten us?

Sure, its easy to reach common goals. But where does that lead except to a mean and common life?

"Instead of noblemen, let us have noble villages of men/women. If it is necessary, omit one bridge over the river, go round a little there, and throw one arch at least over the darker gulf of ignorance which surrounds us." (Thoreau)