school sux

When I was in my final year of secondary study, I was instructed, along with countless other year twelve candidates, to elect the university course for which I wanted to apply for the following year. A typical seventeen year old, I had next to no idea what I hoped to do with my life. That said, regardless of my bewilderment regarding the future, on one point I was certain; I was aching to escape the mundane reality that was high school.

 

I attended what could be considered a standard public high school. In fact, hindsight suggests mine was probably more reputable when compared to the average secondary institution; its culture was established and respected and the students wore the motto Pride and Loyalty well. But never the less, with the exception of English and the Visual Arts, I found school utterly boring. Due to a restrictive state syllabus undermined by archaic educational philosophies, I was expected to take science and math based subjects, despite my disinterest and obvious inability in those fields. Further, timetabling made it impossible to select more than one creative elective; an obstacle constructed to point students toward academic subjects with stronger university admission scores and traditional employment opportunities.

At my high school, it was virtually obligatory to take classes you did not enjoy, making enduring the tedium of school an absolute slog. In truth, there was more than one occasion during those final years that I decided my best option was to drop out of school and work full time at the local fast food joint. In the end, all that stopped me doing this was my unconquerable fear of quitting. So I endured, denying my interests and relenting to the constraints enforced by marginalised opportunities. After all, what choice did I have?

When the inevitable moment of tertiary study selection arrived, I was a cluster bomb of confusion. With nothing to guide me but a humble university admission guide, which was more reminiscent of a telephone directory than an oracle, I went about compiling a list of careers into which I could see myself entering four years down the track. Months later, after driving myself sick from the stress of exams they’d said would singularly make or break our futures, I was accepted into an education/arts degree. For better or worse, after waiting thirteen years to escape school, I was to become an English teacher.

Despite the way in which I’d seemed to fall into the decision, as the course progressed I grew increasingly excited by the prospect of sharing my love for words and literature with generations of young people. University gave me the impression that my job would be important; that teaching was one of the most gratifying and vital professions into which I could possibly hope to enter. As the four years neared their conclusion I began to buzz; I was about to start changing lives! The optimistic, utopian attitudes of our instructors implied that my own school experience had been an unfortunate exception, and I started believing I could play a part in making things universally better. So it was to my dismay when, after finally graduating, I realised that my original suspicions had been correct; the institution of education was severely lacking. Furthermore, as a new teacher, I would bear the brunt of its short falls from the front line.

I witnessed as our restrictive and poorly executed education system constantly failed countless young people. They arrived at the start of every year, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and within a week their innate fires were collectively extinguished by outdated dogma. Dead weights, they’d wander home after being smacked in the face by the realisation that this year, nothing would change. They would be force fed facts, a portion of which they would be required to regurgitate on an exam paper, and eventually they’d be spat out, none the wiser.

I was struck dumb by the injustice and frustrated by the fact that education, possibly the single most important social service, has been left to stagnate. Truly, there is little wonder that as a people we are becoming increasingly ignorant and lethargic; our world is rapidly changing, yet we are stunting the growth of our younger generations for fear of change. Teaching should be about opening minds, not limiting them. Our current system, founded on an obsession with bureaucracy and restricted by a tradition of control fails on this most fundamental level.

Finally my disdain and discontentment grew to a point that I couldn’t take it any longer. I quit my job and moved far away, believing it had been a bum steer getting involved with education in the first place. That what I should have done all along was something else.

Yet ever since I threw in the towel, a niggling nuisance in the back of my mind has refused to quiet. I dwell on the fact that, despite the system’s bottomless pit falls, the fundamentals of teaching and learning are alive and well. After all, in its basic form education is simply a process of interpersonal relations. Working with young people is wonderful; passing your passion about, watching them weigh the happy shape of it. And despite the bombardment of bureaucratic bullshit there remained rare moments when, against all odds, students managed to reach realisations about themselves and the human condition through our lessons. Witnessing that was truly wicked.

This week I will begin the process of returning to school as a casual teacher. I miss the classroom, but I’m primarily being driven by my compulsive inability to give up. Education needs to be better. And I want to play a part in making this happen. In the long term, that will mean returning to university. For now, if all I can do is be ready with a soothing hand to steady a student whose disconsolation has left them floundering, I’m going to want to be there for that, too.

 

stuff they should have taught us at school

The most influential years of our lives are endured trapped within the confines of a classroom, yet looking back I can count on the fingers of one hand the beneficial things that I learned there. For instance, I remember hearing that Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth crossed the Blue Mountains (though I couldn’t tell you when they did it or how it all went down), and I realise that the sum of the square of the two shorter sides of a triangle are equal to the square of the hypotenuse (learning that sure changed my life). However, there’s not been a single instance in the real world (wherever that is) where either of these little pearls has proven useful or relevant.

What I am wondering is why they don’t teach us the things we need to know; stuff that might help us become successful, well balanced human beings? Some people will tell you that life lessons have to be learned the hard way, but I’m not so sure. For myself, there are some things that, had I known them in advance, may have saved me a lot of angst. While I may not have understood them right away, having them told to me would have certainly set the mental ball rolling, saving me from needlessly wasting so many hours of my youth and young womanhood articulating my feelings into bite sized philosophies. When you think about it, there is little wonder teenagers are such melodramatic little buggers; we have them reinventing the emotional wheel!

I think it’s time for a handbook. The Stuff We Should Be Teaching You But Aren’t, Because We’re Too Busy With The Circumference Of A Circle And Other Such Irrelevancies handbook. And it should have DON’T PANIC written in large letters on the back cover, Hitchhiker style. Because God knows there are countless times when I could have benefitted from that little snippet of wisdom.

I have taken it upon myself to commence composition of the handbook and have outlined some ‘rules to live by’ in the space below. Of course, any suggestions from the floor would be much appreciated; I have every faith that the youth of tomorrow will be sure to thank us.

 

Perfection Is Dull

…your idiosyncrasies are what make you interesting.

Young people are too often preoccupied with trying to be like the film stars on the covers of teen magazines. They spend the majority of their time tanning and dieting, colouring their hair and figuring out what the media reckons they should wear. The sooner they realise that this cookie cutter mentality is shallow and boring, the sooner they will learn to love themselves. Think of the people at school that you admired. My bet is that they were the ones who had figured out the secret: individuality is a whole lot more interesting. (Though it needs to be noted that those who force individuality by assuming a certain style and practiced affectations are often pretentious, superficial and a royal pain in the backside. So don’t do that, either, okay?)

 

Mistakes Are A Good Thing

…they imply that you are learning.

Too often people mentally beat themselves up over the things they’ve done, whether in their relationships or their lives in general. Once we embrace the notion that it’s our past that shapes us, it’s much easier to make peace with the choices we make and the things we’ve done. The more colourful our past, the richer the tapestry of our lives, I reckon.

 

It’s Okay To Change Your Mind

…but (in the words of Joan Armatrading), if you’re going to do it, do it right.

There is nothing more irritating than people who do things half arsed. If you are going to do something, don’t waste our time with anything but your very best. If your heart isn’t in it, don’t whinge about it, do something to change it. We live but once.

 

Not Everything Old Is Boring

…not even your folks.

Okay, some parents are boring, as are some old things. But they aren’t boring because they’re old; they’re boring because they’re boring. Lots of old things are actually really interesting and entirely worthy of our time. So listen to vinyls and read books and spend some time watching old films. Doing these things does not make you a square, it makes you awesome.

 

In The End, The Love You Take, Is Equal To The Love You Make

….thanks, Beatles.

This is true for all realms of our lives; whatever we give out we will get back in equal measure. Said in another way, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The implication is that the more we send out into the universe, the more we will get back for ourselves. The harder we live, the more enjoyment we will receive. The greater the risk, the richer the reward. Get the drift?

 

Relax

…whatever will be, will be.

There is not a lot of point fretting over what ifs; nothing that is for us will ever pass us by. If something is supposed to happen, it will; if it isn’t supposed to, it won’t. Knowing this little truth can save a lot of anxiety and frees us up to live happily in the moment without becoming wrapped up in the hypotheticals of the future.

 

Nobody Is Happy All Of The Time

…enjoy your melancholy; all feelings are healthy.

It isn’t realistic to expect to be content all of the time; we are complex beings and there are countless emotions that contribute to making us dynamic and interesting. Melancholy is a place where a lot of great things happen; in fact, many of the most creative and poignant artistic expressions were dreamed up in the depths of despair. So indulge in these feelings, but realise they don’t belong to you alone. And when it’s time, pick yourself up and order yourself a slice of happy.

 

Remember To Breathe

…the little things are what it’s all about.

In the hustle and bustle of the daily grind it’s so easy to lose perspective and forget what’s really important. As often as you can, stop and breathe. It sounds corny, but it feels really grand. When you concentrate on nothing but filling your lungs with fresh air, you open yourself up to noticing the things around you. It’s a nice feeling. : )

 

Don’t Be Too Focused On Where You’re Going

…live in the here and now.

Too often we set our sights on the horizon and pour all our energies into reaching it. However, the horizon is an illusion, a destination impossible to reach. Forgive the cliché, but you are much better focusing on the journey, enjoying each day as it comes. Because when you do reach the end of your life, you will want to know that you made the most of every single day.

 

Life Is Short

…so make your own rules and never go to bed angry.

Forget what everybody else is doing; you would be much better off if you simply ran your own race. None of us dream the same, so dismiss convention and do your own thing. And never go to be angry; making love is a whole lot more fun than making war.

 

This Above All: To Thine Own Self Be True

…Shakespeare, you’re the boss.

To think it was all summed up by some guy who was kicking around four hundred years ago. Even Alicia Silverstone was down with this guy. (If you haven’t read or seen Hamlet, I would highly recommend it; it is easily one of Shakespeare’s finest.)

 

a book or ebook?

I used to believe in the humble book. There was a time I was certain that nothing could come between us and our fistfuls of musky scented yellow pages; that undeniable sense of character imparted by time and the tender hands of countless companions. Somehow I was sure that no matter how technologically advanced we became, nothing could possibly replace an authentic and unassuming hard cover.

There’s something deeply romantic about the book; a physical collection of words and sentiments, whose compilation is tangible evidence that as a people, we have existed. Through the book we happily accept the love and laughter, tears and tragedies of others; a testament to the human condition. Then when we’re done, we pass it on so that those words that shook us might wake the senses of a new reader. In that moment when we hand it over, we send our own story wordlessly with it; an unspoken yet undeniable shared history that can be sensed in the margins of every page. The happy knowledge that the leaves you now turn have been caressed by some number of others, binding you with your humanity, like the linking fingers of a best friend.

I was wrong, of course. I have always been, above all else, embarrassingly naive. How green to imagine that while the rest of the world became increasingly clinical, disinterested in their brother and the intimacy of breathing someone else’s air that the defenceless book could survive. No one wants to own something that’s been handled by an unfamiliar other any more. We want to live apart. Possess our own things. Selfishly believe the world is ours; that we are the only one. Populations are booming, but even as we’re forced to dwell on top of one another, moving ever higher into an unconquered sky, we are slamming tight our shutters.

Needless to say, there will always be stories. We’re too governed by ego to let the story die; we see ourselves in every narrative and our sense of self importance is affirmed. But books and stories, those words that were once synonymous, are about to be broken apart. Driven by our need for efficiency, we can now download our own version of the texts we wish to read. These days we need not even leave the house. What a blow of cruel irony when the interwebs adopted the phrase connectivity.

Like so many things, it’s come to pass that every book you own can be uniquely yours; you read it once but do not pass it on. The pages are ever crisp and white; untarnished as a surgeon’s scalpel. But the romance is gone. In our hunger for perfection and instant gratification we have sliced off and slaughtered the glorious romance.

are books becoming kindle? like, literally?

It’s been estimated that within this decade, electronic books will have completely replaced commercially available paper publications. There are of course, many advantages to the electronic book. Affordability is one; for the time being, they are certainly cheaper. Owning an electronic reader also means you can have countless titles at your finger tips. Many people are also citing the environmental card, claiming that the e book is better for the environment. I’m not sure I buy this one. While I’ve done exactly no research on the subject, I can’t believe the process involved with constructing these little gadgets is particularly sparing on the fossil fuels.

 

What do you think about our move toward electronic books?

Have you taken the leap to e reader?

How do you feel about the humble hard cover being made redundant?