Sunday, March 4, 2012

School & Jada Williams

Miss Jada Williams, you may only be 13 years of age, but you deserve an introduction to Mr. Paul Graham. You and he have a lot in common via your essays.

He wrote a very interesting essay titled “Why Nerds Are Unpopular” that in many ways parallels your essay. I think you would really enjoy it and also think you would really understand when he writes

Public school teachers are in much the same position as prison wardens. Wardens' main concern is to keep the prisoners on the premises. They also need to keep them fed, and as far as possible prevent them from killing one another. Beyond that, they want to have as little to do with the prisoners as possible, so they leave them to create whatever social organization they want. From what I've read, the society that the prisoners create is warped, savage, and pervasive, and it is no fun to be at the bottom of it.

Oddly enough, his understanding of the public school system occurred in the eighth grade for him – when he was twelve and thirteen – the latter being the age when you wrote your essay.

You observed in your essay that,

When I find myself sitting in a crowded classroom where no real instruction is taking place I can say history does repeat itself. … The reality of this is that most of my peers can not read, and therefore comprehend the materials that have been provided. So I feel like not much has changed. Just different people. Different era. The same old discrimination still resides in the hearts of the white man.

Paul Graham observed

And as for the schools, they were just holding pens … . Officially the purpose of schools is to teach kids. In fact their primary purpose is to keep kids locked up in one place for a big chunk of the day so adults can get things done. …

… Kids are sent off to spend six years memorizing meaningless facts in a world ruled by a caste of giants who run after an oblong brown ball, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. And if they [the kids] balk at this … they're called misfits.

Jada, you continued with

My advice to my peers, people of color, and my generation, start making these white teachers accountable for instructing you. They tooled this profession, they brag about their credentials, they brag about their tenure, so if you have so much experience then find a more productive way to teach the so called ‘unteachable.’

Clearly the two of you are coming at this – public schools and public education – from two different directions. Nonetheless, it is uncanny how similar your language sounds on an emotional or visceral level.

Personally, I saw the connection between public schools and prisons when I entered a medium security prison as part of an outreach program. The corridors, bells, guards (hall monitors), and doors were incredibly reminiscent of junior high school and high school for me although I loved school and learning.

I was very interested to read what you said on the Glenn Beck TV show about your ‘white teachers’ reference here was not about race, but was simply using the language of Fredrick Douglass as it could have been so easy for you to say, “Darn right it’s about race.” You didn’t and made sure everyone knew it was about education or the lack thereof. (H/T

As it is, if your essay had removed the one word describing teachers (white) it would have been spot on without any explanation necessary as it would have then applied to the educational establishment as a whole.

I wish you all the success in life that Paul Graham has had and look forward to seeing your own website up and running one day –

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