Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Shove It

Via Robin on the Stern Show, I learned about teen embedding. When I showed my daughter several stories about teen embedding - where teens have self-mutilated by putting objects such as paper clips and crayons under their skin - she just shook her head in dismay. Google "teen embedding" and you'll see the stories.

It's not so much that teens are fucked up these days, that's normal; I think it's an expression of these times. It may as well be self-amputation, which also occurs. People are shocked but let's not forget that the practice of trepanation has been around a long time. So it's clear that humans have long self-mutilated.

The difference maker is that humans also have large brains; we evolve. Things such as social constructions like racism are systems that have come under scrutiny and we process through them, however imperfectly, yet we continue to make moves, both symbolic and real.

As an old fart, Ive regaled my daughter about what it was like to be alive in the crucible of the 60's and 70's. And I think I've been honest with her when I say that hippies were full of a bunch of goofy shit, but they also got up off their asses and helped stop an insane war, bounce a criminal out of the presidency and fought hard for civil rights and women's rights.

We also were fortunate to have a very active base of activist athletes and artists (film, music and literature in particular) who were plugged in and pumping out messages that spoke to us on the level of the social-political hurricane swirling around us. Without the slightest hint of romance, I can say that there was something in the air.

Today, my daughter finds her generation full of ennui, entitlement and a complete lack of awareness of history. I was talking to one of her friends who's in his 20's and I asked him if he knew who Robert Oppenheimer was, or J. Edgar Hoover, or what the New Deal was. It was shocking, but not surprising that he didn't know, much less showed any interest.

Thing is, it's really not all their fault; education here is a travesty. Kids come out of college and have absolutely no working knowledge of financial systems, much less political systems, and how history has shaped them and impacts the world, and thus their lives. Everyone, via dumbya's boneheaded "No Child Left Behind" program, teaches to rote memorization and test taking, and our kids come out of it beaten up, bored to death, uninspired and automatonic. The drop out rate is appalling in the hood; in East LA, it's probably over 30%, and I guarantee you if that were happening in Beverly Hills or Malibu, parents would be storming their respective city halls and heads would be rolling. But because it's disenfranchised brown mudpeeps, it's a non-subject.

It's tragic, really, when you hear someone such as a western European speaking English and their command is superior to that of a lot of our kids. And while everyone stresses reading as a fundamental skill, and indeed it's important, writing is a lost art. Forget it, it's gone, left to the few.

My father, in his last days, taught cons in medium security; his goal was to bring them up to high school equivalency. He had a wide range in ages, from 18 to old vets, lifers, and one day he asked me what I thought was the average literacy rate of his students. I thought about somewhere in high school. He then told me one of the most shocking things I've ever heard, that it was probably around 5th grade level, if that. Many were illiterate, others, functionally so. Of course, they were all black and brown.

In the midst of EM08, which is distracting everyone by continuing to throw up all over us, there is an American travesty that's been in the works for decades. Thing is, we know what to do. Programs such as "Head Start" which worked with pre-schoolers, have all but shown conclusively that they work well. Too many studies have shown that kids benefit by learning other languages and art, such as music - their academic achievement rises and they grow up to be healthier, more well-adjusted people.

Instead, we have bred generation after generation of disenchanted young people, and embedding is but one way they seek to feel, to live, or reach out for something. Talk about sustainability; these kids are a "resource" of the most precious kind, and we're wasting it like there's no tomorrow.

Churchill had a great quote about how crazy we are: "America always makes the right decision after they've exhausted every other possibility." I'm not sure in this case, because as George Carlin points out, the owners of this country want education dumbed down real good. George said, "It's called 'The American Dream,' because you have to be asleep, to believe it."