July 22, 2014

Education is killing the spirit

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I came across this speech, delivered in June of 2010 by Erica Goldson, Valedictorian of her class at Coxsackie-Athens HS:


The full text of the speech can be found on Erica’s blog.



This passage, to my mind, is the most telling:

I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I’m scared.


As I’ve commented in some recent posts on Education, there has been a long history of observers who’ve noted that the Education system is doing more to suffocate learning than to allow it.  It seems that even the students themselves are aware of this fact.  So, thank you, Erica, for pointing that out so well.

Is it any different outside the halls of education and in corporate environments?  No, not really – at least not in most places.  People aren’t paid for their creativity, they are paid for their compliance.  This post on the Fast Company site early in 2011 echoes many of the same sentiments expressed in the speech up above.

If we aren’t in a state of crisis in our institutions – public and private – we’re certainly getting close to one.  People are cynical, disillusioned and becoming more and more apathetic all the time.  For employers having a hard time dealing with Millennials in the workplace – can you blame them for their disaffected attitudes?  They are inheriting quite the mess, and they seem to know it.

Clearly, what we’ve been using in educating and developing both students and employees isn’t working – meaning our assumptions about motivation and learning, are outdated.  Like anything else that fails to yield the desired results, it’s time to try something different and see if it works any better.

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  • Matt Wrye

    Wow!  To be so young and to see and understand that is amazing to me.  I wonder what the faculty and staff thought of her speech.  I would love to see her perspective and what she is doing in 10 years.  Did she end up learning or just playing the system?

    • http://myflexiblepencil.com David M. Kasprzak

      Hi, Matt. From the looks of her blog, it appears she is trying to walk the walk. It will be interesting to see how things evolve if and when things like a family or just the need to settle down emerge.


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