“Conceal your intentions”- Law 3, The 48 Laws of Power
The summer between high school and college presents a beautiful, uniquely modern, netherworld- the intersection of hope and accomplishment. A short pause between childhood and everything else, like the blank space between comic book panels, where reflection meets expectation.
I had a conversation with friend at the time about our idea of what college would be like. We had both felt severely burned by our Catholic high school education- that the limitations of Catholic doctrine had somehow obscured Truth. The Truth, we had both agreed, was the ultimate end-game of any education; the absolute highest priority.
And not that we were necessarily wrong on either account, however this belief in “Truth as God” without the components of wisdom and social acuity will only lead to misery and self-destruction.
This is where, if this were a perfect story, future-me would appear in the back lot of Donny’s Adventure Kingdom- behind the pirate ship- and tell past-me how Truth must be tempered with rhetoric. People aren’t looking for Truth; people are looking for identity.
And the clove cigarettes have got to go too, for fuck’s sake.
But, I had to learn the hard way.
My friend had argued that a carefully selected college course-list would eventually reveal some kind of massive, esoteric Truth. And the music cue from Legend of Zelda would play, when you push the secret rock and uncover the hidden stairway. That the right combination of books from our massive college library, when used in the correct order and arrangement, would present a world-view hidden from the mainstream.
This didn’t seem right to me. I had thought that if there were some kind of massive, esoteric Truth which existed in the shadows of the mainstream, it would have been processed and fed to the culture in a more easily digestible way. That our massive college library had lots of books with lots of words, over-complicating simplicity. If Truth indeed existed, it would be something more basic.
Fifteen years later, and a lot like that late-summer night, I’ve learned that reality is somewhere in between.
I became a High School teacher because I wanted to teach Truth. I swear it made sense at the time. Go ahead and take a guess how well that worked out. It was a long, hard road to finally accept that Truth is irrelevant to most people. Modern education is a dramatic performance of ideology; a parody of education. If any real leaning happens to go on during the performance, consider it the mini-sticker at the bottom of your Cracker Jack box- yeah, maybe it’s there, but it’s far from the point.
As a dangerously naive student teacher, when I was tasked with the rather boring assignment of giving a lesson on the horrifying evils of stereotyping, I thought long and hard about how to present the practicality of heuristics. Written proudly across the whiteboard, I came up with the phrase: “Stereotypes aren’t necessarily accurate.”
And I genuinely wondered why the rest of my time at the middle-school was miserable.
What I failed to understand without the components of wisdom and social acuity is that Truth doesn’t need to be spelled out explicitly to exist as Truth. For Truth to exist, it must be eternal- language, however, is fluid and can be used to point and gesture toward Truth
As an experienced teacher, I can use language and pedagogy to lead students in the right direction without being explicit. Since Truth is eternal, any piece of shit thrown my way will do. Take, for instance, ugly Shirley Jackson’s childish short story, “The Lottery.”
And what’s the rule with ugly female writers? She’s angry, feels slighted, and is bent on destruction.
“The Lottery” is a thinly veiled attack on religion and patriarchy- so, of course, it’s an English curriculum favorite. If you haven’t read it- really don’t- it goes like this: a village in the not-so-distant past has a lottery every year where they choose someone at random to be sacrificed with the idea that it’s necessary in order to yield a healthy corn harvest and feed the village. In the story, a woman is chosen to win the lottery (of course), she shouts that it “isn’t fair,” and is stoned to death.
Taken at face value, it’s easy to have the lesson settle on the idea that we should question social conformity to dangerous traditions. The first step in undoing this is to start with the idea of conformity in general- conceptually, does conformity have a positive or negative connotation? Assuming the student response will be overwhelmingly negative, which it always is, you then ask if conformity is ever a necessity. Car travel would be chaos without conforming to the rules of the road. Team sports would be confusing without the conformity of uniforms. Halloween would be a drag without suburban homeowners conforming to the tradition of handing out candy. Conformity is nuanced, and can be a powerful tool in building social cohesion.
When the lady in the story wins the lottery and is about to be stoned, she protests that it “isn’t fair.” It “isn’t fair” because she’s the one getting pelted with rocks. The lottery is a fair system because anyone can be chosen to win, and the lottery is a necessity in-order to guarantee a full corn-harvest.
This is where a student will stop me and say, “only it’s not, Mr. Pratt- their lottery is hinged on silly superstition.” But what if it was a necessity for the survival of the village?
We wouldn’t take pleasure in the process, but we would understand its purpose for the greater good… and if there were forces at work, beyond our comprehension, which inexplicably tied human sacrifice to modest farming, flippantly writing this off may prove a dangerous gamble.
Social tradition may be a downer, but it may exist as a necessity beyond our scope of understanding. And suddenly you have a classroom of fourteen-year-old right-wing Trump supports, all by asking a few big questions- real education- and if anyone asks, you can shrug your shoulders and do the old the Steve Urkel routine: “did I do that?”
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