Thursday, October 23, 2008

Grocery Store Tabula Rasa. (or, "History is Bunk.")

So I go to Ingles to get groceries (cause we're out of cookies and chips, and no snack food is analogous to chimps not having bananas, or most teenagers not having their ipods glued to their thighs. Anyway...) so I get up to the check-out counter, and it all rings up as $14.92. To which I reply... "that was a good year."

I get a blank look, as if she didn't understand why I would say such a thing. "What?"

"1492, that was a good year."

Blank look...

"If you were Columbus."

"Oh, didn't he discover the world, or something that year?"


Makes me wonder if its all worth worrying about. Why should I, like Bernard, worry about beauty and justice and what's write in this world when the masses are craving entertainment and their latest dosage of Soma, in whatever form. If the public school system's true aim is to produce mindless, credit card carrying zombies that are fit for consumation and pleasure, then no child will be left behind. As for me, Iceland sounds like a great place to live. (See Huxley's Brave New World for references.)

I was thinking about this post this morning (I had put this on Facebook just as a small note yesterday), and thought about what the critics would say. "Well, he's just an intellectual elitist. The public school system is doing the best they can." And to some extent, they'd be somewhat right. But, see, it's a frame of mind, when children are allowed to float through the first 18 years of their lives and not learn the very basics of history, grammar, literature, math, science...etc... Everyone should be smarter than a 5th grader. The date 1492, or 1776, should mean something. You should be able to say 'Romeo" and have people think about Shakespeare, and not a hip/hop artist.

And to indict the public school system for not doing enough to raise the basic intelligence level of American children, to say teachers aren't doing enough, it's partly true. Teachers should be battling against the frame of mind that creates the difficulties they face everyday, from discipline to apathy. Why should students care about even the very basics of education when it's not necessary to know these things in the real world? All it is necessary to do is to work, spend money, enhance the consumer base that keeps the American economy working. American culture dictates that pleasure is the inevitable by-product of our times. (Monkees, from Head.) All else is bunk, as the great Ford would say (Huxley).

(As an aside, the more I think about the Monkees movie, it ceases to be a box office failure and the end of a phenomenon, and more a biting commentary on the very culture that created it in the first place, which is why it failed. With all the ambiguity and drug-induced scenes of nonsense, there was a highly relevant message that reverberates even today. A masterpiece that has wasted away as part of what people simply think of as a 60's pop band.)

The problem is, even as i say the teachers must fight to keep the American mind from closing (Bloom), I know it's a battle that cannot be won, at least, not in this day in time. Because the desire for knowledge, to know and to perceive the world as something more than a fish bowl to be happy and entertain ourselves in, is rapidly becoming a dying cry, lost in the sounds of reality TV shows, blocked from ears sporting ipod buds, drowning in useless news and manipulated surveys, until only something like Jeopardy! is there to remind us that there might be something more out there.

It strikes me as ironic that Bradbury was wrong in his novel Fahrenheit 451, that books would be burned as thought of as illegal. Instead, he was absolutely correct in his short story "The Pedestrian," that the pursuit of knowledge would be seen as aberrant behavior and worthy of mental restructuring. Books aren't simply to be burned, they are to suffer a fate 10 times worse. They are to be ignored.

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