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PIRATE WIRES #10 // Bad Education
the abolition of elementary school, eternal summer camp, and maybe let's get rid of college
This is Jack Dorsey’s world, we’re just living in it. It was no surprise this week to see “Guillotine Twitter,” a popular subculture on Jack Dorsey’s 24/7 ideological war app, allowed to flourish on a platform now ostensibly committed to censorship of content that “glorifies violence.” The gang — mostly neckbeard-y white men and pseudonymous, genderqueer anime fairies with, notably, rose emojis in their bio — is after all entirely comprised of militant, far left socialists and “anarchists” (“anarchy” here defined as “also socialism, but angrier”), and content in this specific, political vein, no matter how gruesome, no matter how explicitly inciting of mass murder, is read by moderators and media personalities with nuance afforded no other group on the internet. I was however surprised to see this week’s disturbing volley of content come from a public teachers union.
“Protestors” building a guillotine in front of Jeff Bezos’ house — “protesting,” in this case, the man’s life (totally normal, nothing to see here) — is old news. But that the trend towards political violence, much encouraged by Twitter, has breached a public mouthpiece of the Chicago Teachers Union is worth talking about. Teachers are charged with the not unimportant task of shaping the minds of our children, and while we know what our public-sector teachers do not want — at the moment, to actually teach — it’s always worth asking what they do want, and how they think about our world.
Most reasonable people would probably not be comfortable were their children, before an age old enough to grapple with complicated philosophical ideas, instructed by militant Marxists. Certainly, I thought, I would not want this for my own children. But then I thought a little harder on the subject, and tumbled all the way down the rabbit hole. In the first place, I wondered, why are we instructing young kids in “serious subjects” at all? A little math seemed helpful, and reading of course. But at age ten, or seven, and certainly before that, what even is “school?” I thought about my own education. When I was a kid, I learned to read and play with numbers pretty much out of the gate. But for the other eight or ten years of my youth, what did I actually do? What did I really learn? What was the point of it all?
As with many things, 2020’s plague placed the topic of primary education into new focus for me. Back in February, and March, at the top of the disaster, I was a committed “shut down the world” guy. The pandemic seemed like war to me, and there’s no winning war without sacrifice. In hindsight, this was an easy position to hold. I wasn’t sacrificing much. I’m a single guy in tech with the incredible fortune to work in a field easily managed from home, and I don’t yet have children. I still think a brief, complete shutdown would have been helpful, rather than the strategy our government employed (attempting charity, here, with the word “strategy”). But much like an aggressive chemotherapy, too much time shutdown is more harmful than it is helpful. This is something most young parents grasped at once.
Throughout the early months of the pandemic I didn’t understand the childcare critique of shutdown. “If not for education, which isn’t being here entirely impeded, what is school supposed to be? Daycare?” I thought this was some kind of winning argument. Surely, no parent would admit school wasn’t primarily a place for learning. Right? Wow, no. Little Sally down the block is eight-years old, and she’s not in it for Social Studies. She’s pretty much just living for the twenty minutes a day she’s allowed to play with construction paper. For her parents this is not ideal, but it nets out okay because they’re busy trying to feed their families. Is school just daycare? “Yes,” my friends all said, “but hello, we need daycare.”
When we were young, our parents held the American economy on their backs. School was the place where we waited for them while they did this, and while we waited we participated in an elaborate performance of education. It was a complex psycho-social dance designed to ease adult society’s guilt — this thing our kids don’t want to do is good for them. But if that’s all still the case (it is), and most of primary education is just daycare for a modern workforce that needs daycare to function (this too)… is there a reason it has to suck? I’ve got a kind of crazy idea: what if we just dropped the “schooling” pretense and did summer camp forever?
If the Chicago Teachers Union wants to focus on activism for their mass murder movement, they should absolutely be permitted. America is a free country, after all, and we each have a god given right to be wrong and loud. But we’re in the middle of a crisis, now, and as with hair salons and church, tax-funded activism is unfortunately not an essential service. When the union goes on strike, and it seems likely they will, let’s remember parents around the country desperately need functioning daycare for their children, and relieve the folks refusing to provide that service of the duty. After that’s taken care of, what we have left is a pretty exciting opportunity.
Around the country an army of mostly-teenaged camp counselors manage to spark incredible joy in the lives of our children for a small fraction of what it costs our government to fund Elementary School. Every summer, we drop the elaborate, psycho-social education dance, in which the misery of young people is at least a sign of learning (why are we like this, my God), and we look to our children for guidance concerning what to do with them. This is a period of time we frame as “vacation,” if still not accurately as daycare, and vacation is meant to be fun. The government’s entire, bloated punishment machine is therefore, temporarily, put to rest, and a nation of small humans spends eight, delightful weeks reading for pleasure, spending time in the yard with their friends, swimming, drawing, painting, playing basketball or soccer or hockey. They wake up happy every morning, excited about the play they’re working on, or the weeks-long, incredibly heated kickball tournament they’re about to win. They’re making beaded necklaces. They’re playing music. They’re learning about tadpoles at the pond down the street, and birds at the nest in your neighbor’s backyard. No tests. No homework. No grades — because your child is eight. Why are we grading eight-year olds?
Camp-model daycare is a relatively-inexpensive system we could, with the considerable resources we burn on K-6 “education,” easily scale up. And come fall, with many teachers refusing to head back to class, we may have to think about this.
Now, while we’re on cost:
Let’s delete credentialism. A century ago freshmen entered Harvard speaking Greek and Latin. Do you know what their tutors and high school teachers mostly did not have? College degrees. The cost of summer camp is dwarfed by Elementary School for many reasons ranging from bureaucracy and waste to labor, this final point relating to a highly-expensive, government-mandated credentialing process that is almost entirely unnecessary. We should just get rid of it. No one needs a college degree to take care of children. Every one of us was born with that ability. Let’s get rid of the Department of Education while we’re at it, which has — despite incredible myth surrounding the institution — only existed since the Carter Administration?
Do you know what we did before 1979? We split the atom. We landed on the moon. It is possible to learn, I promise you, without a 68 billion dollar department in Washington collecting data on tests most kids, in most circumstances, by the way do not need to be taking. Do you know how many pillow forts we could build with that money? Think of the terrariums we could buy, and the cute little chemistry sets. From where I’m sitting, it seems like the testing-industrial complex exists primarily to further bolster a corrupt and bloated college industrial complex, and… okay, is there a reason that exists?
I live in San Francisco. I’m surrounded by software engineers, many of whom learned their trade for fun, in high school, so they could build video games they were not supposed to be playing. With the exception of a few professions (nuclear science, medicine), almost no one draws on what they learned in class to do their work. We mostly learn what we need on the job, and I would venture so far as to say even in fields like medicine, which require a long apprenticeship, much of what is critical is learned at work. All of this calls to mind the 1.5 trillion dollars of student debt that has crippled Americans across the country — for what?
It’s a crisis. But fortunately, in a crisis our politicians rise to the occasion. Jk this is America, and basically everyone in charge is dumb as shit.
Here you go: a 1.5 trillion dollar gift to the psychotic bankers and college administrators who put us in this hole, and permanent, free “higher education” — that phrase, “higher education,” being another elaborate lie we tell ourselves, but in this context to ease the sting of four years many of us paid to have stolen. Ilhan’s plan (is it that?) wouldn’t even solve our debt problem. It would simply shift the burden of a debt that should never have been assumed to every American. But for what it’s worth, solving the debt problem would not be hard. There’s just no appetite for it in Congress because the solution is apolitical, and honestly a little boring. But what else am I doing today? I’ll beat this drum again:
Make all student loan debt assumed (to the current year only) 100% tax deductible, and retroactively to get the country on board.
Abolish Bush the Sequel’s disastrous, Orwellian “Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act,” which exempts student loans from discharge.
Abolish the institution of Federal student loans.
If every step is taken in tandem, this will work. Taxpayers with debt have a huge incentive to pay it back, and those who can’t pay their debt back are now allowed to take the credit hit and declare bankruptcy. Then, without the Federal Government handing out lifetime debt to seventeen-year olds, and with private banks incentivized for fear of bankruptcy to actually consider whether or not loanees can realistically pay back their debt, the cost of college will plummet. Many lower-tier colleges will probably go out of business, finally experiencing repercussions for their decades-long theft from literal teenagers. The new system: if you really, really want a degree you don’t need, take out a reasonable loan and go for it. But the ultimate failure in thinking we see from people like Ilhan is the core assumption that college is good. Best case, college is neutral. Worst case, college is actually inhibiting our ability to think for ourselves, which I suspect many in Congress actually want — but that’s another wire for another day.
I’m remembering my favorite XKCD strip:
School doesn’t have to be miserable. For the most part, it doesn’t even have to exist. We’re in charge now. It’s okay to start over.