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Rated: 13+ · Editorial · Educational · #2232649
How's a kid supposed to get an education when he's much more valuable as a victim?
I can't imagine not knowing how to read. I can't imagine not reading well. I can't imagine not having an insatiable thirst for good books of a non-fictitious nature, and for the learning and the illumination that comes from their pages. I can't imagine a life without that.

Yet the educational industry at best now pays lip service to this idea, and at worst, considers it unimportant. Consider that the ability to read, and to read well, combined with a burning curiosity to engage with the works of good writers, and a scorching desire to quell the howling noises of endless distraction by focusing on one book at a time - all produce the quiet strength of endless little bundles of knowledge and understanding. Even critical thought. The kind of critical thought capable of criticizing criticism for narrow and political ends.

Far too many marginalized kids these days are handed a Get Out of School Free card, very early in life. What kid wouldn't want that? Hell, that's a dodge in a young life too good to pass up. But sooner or later it comes back to haunt an intellect that never atrophied enough to not eventually become aware of its own impotence. Which offers up its own brand of frustration and despair. A good mind isn't just a terrible thing to waste. It is also inextricably connected to and interwoven with a real and actual life. A life that is experienced according to the coordinated and collected ability to gather information and understanding. The kind that opens up the world, rather than shut it down like the slam of a prison cell door.

We know that there is no good reason anymore for any kid to come out the far end of a school career functionally illiterate. We also know that we live in a society that does not appear to value reading as it once did. Apparently we now just absorb what reading used to provide with the use of apps, devices, and instant delivery systems.
Only we never have figured out a better way to get results than the simple turning of pages. That is now our dirty little secret.

But it gets far better (or worse, depending on your angle of examination.) We know that "Free" card produces its opposite - an imprisonment of failure to engage in life with greater knowledge and understanding, but also one other thing that is of powerful importance. The inability to express oneself with language.
It is not just the softest of bigotries that cuddle the lowest of expectations that turn golden harvests into junk food. Although the shame of the nation truly does bog down in that quagmire.

Once upon a time in our history, certain peoples were denied the opportunity to learn literacy. They were even punished for attempting to do so. Yet they ran that risk. We know for certain that they did so because they understood implicitly, that this resource was connected inextricably with freedom.
That word. That beautiful word. The word that can make a trillion other words meaningful, and make sense.

As one bounces through the young ages of a lifetime, one gains endless layers of confidence in their own ability not only to grow up, but to attain certain stages with maps of meaning, according to what is personally decided upon as what really matters. It is the world going on outside of them that provides these keys and clues. And the delivery system that facilitates this, is an education. If an education that has done its job ends anywhere in young adulthood, this paves the way for a continuing education for the rest of life. It never does stop. It is not an unusual thing anymore to encounter the insatiable curiosities of toddlerhood in one who has attained middle, or even old age. I consider this to be the privilege, birthright, and a most powerful achievement bequeathed by a free society.

We pretend that this is what is offered to all. Many in all classes and demographics decline the gift. They have their reasons, I suppose. Many more never get offered that gift, They are offered something else instead. Something radically different than the opportunity to grow up attaining a personhood parallel to free agency. Freedom of thought, speech, and most importantly, conscience.
A society composed of nothing more than the exalted few, and the vast mob of underlings, is no real society worth living in. If knowledge is indeed, power, then a power exists in a multitude of forms, and permeates the greater culture of the land.

Most importantly, this creates a common language and expression capable of being universally understood. Which is what draws people together. Not only like-minded or superficially similar tribes and groups, but endless mixtures of diversity. Which means instead of one particular point of view holding court and gaining all the traction, many thousands of variations on the theme. Such a thing as a blue note played upon a saxophone is different enough when played upon a sitar, but still bears enough resemblance to be recognized and understood. Just as we recognize and understand the thousands, millions or billions of expressions of humanity that we encounter.

Dumbing down education is like comparing the relationship between a diet pill to a 12 course gourmet meal. There is no substance, so much so that it is kind of like comparing matter to anti-matter. Which causes me to suspect that there are educational planners out there capable of actually fearing the power of what real education can do. As if they fear it as a loss of control, or even as if this is not the actual plan, after all.

And so I come to the strange and fascinating history of Dunbar High School, in which I will be mercifully brief, and then leave off for the moment.
Dunbar was located in Washington DC, and excelled in educating an almost entirely black student population, from some time before 1900, right on up to the Civil Rights era of the mid-1960's. This school continually out-performed other high schools in the community, and eventually the region, and ultimately, on a national basis. The academic standards were sky high and rigorous.
The history of this school proves of course, that its results are entirely possible, when there is a will to establish a curriculum designed to get desired results.
I'll leave it to the reader to look up and discover Dunbar on their own. The historic proof it offers would certainly be a contentious issue these days.
But what Dunbar accomplished should not be a far-fetched pipe dream now. Why America does not now have a thousand Dunbars, is a story connected to these times.
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