“Think for Yourself”

The education system is often criticized by conspiracy nuts and other proponents of alternative world views that they don’t teach kids how to think for their selves. They don’t teach you how to think, but what to think. I remember hearing a few times the teacher tell us to think for ourselves in elementary school. However, that’s not how kids actually hear it, and not really how the teachers mean it. They are actually saying “Think for yourself how we want you to think”. Think independently so that you will reach the same conclusions we have reached.

People, especially children, tend to think for themselves by default. Only when they are conditioned and indoctrinated to think a certain way, which many people have, they don’t think for themselves. So as a child when you hear “think for yourself” you think what wrong with my thinking? How can I learn to think more for myself? If I emulate the teacher and other adults, am I thinking for myself? The mere phrase may actually lead you further away from independent thought.

In my experience the strongest lesson you learn at school is how to emulate others and how to please those higher than you. This works both in and out the class room. During recess you see the bad ass boys smoking and being the toughest in the school. You want to emulate them either to be as bad ass as them, or at least so no-one hassles you. Then you start smoking like them and doing the other stuff they do. In class, if you’re a “good student” you emulate the teacher, and learn to provide the right response to his or her stimuli to get rewarded in true Pavlovian manner. The class situation is not about learning the subject matter, be it maths, geography or language, but to get good grades. To do that you have to acquire the pretense of understanding those subjects for as long as the course goes on, but actual understanding is not required. Another, perhaps more important part of the class situation, is learning authoritarian discipline. You have to go to class on time, conform to the right conducts of behaviour and so on. This discipline is discipline for slaves or pets who are merely trained for their masters. True discipline is an inner one, and not one that you have for the sake of others.

In conclusion, be cool, don’t stay in school. When I was in senior high school I used to joke that junior high is just a prison for kids. They’re not there to learn stuff, simply to keep them out of the streets. Now that I think about it, the prison drama Oz is a lot like junior high school was, only more brutal and interesting for TV.

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