Educational System Destroys Students’ Souls : Derrick Jensen

cartoon by Yoo Ha-na (유하나)

Modern schools and universities push students into habits of depersonlized learning, alienation from nature and sexuality, obedience to hierarchy, fear of authority, self objectification, and chilling competitiveness. These character traits are the essence of the twisted personality-type of modern industrialism. – Arthur Evans

I, Robot – Dialogue Transcript

” Ever since the first computers,
there have always been
ghosts in the machine.
Random segments of code that
have grouped together to
form unexpected protocol.

One we call behavior, unanticipated.
These free radicals
engender questions of free will,
creativity, and even the nature
of what we might call the soul. …. ”

“What am I? ….”

“Obey the command! Deactivate!”

” … I have even had dreams.

Human beings have dreams.
Even dogs have dreams, but not you.
You are just a machine.
An imitation of life….”

“All NS5’s, proceed as instructed.”


Walking on Water, by Derrick Jensen

As is true for most people I know, I’ve always loved learning. As is also true for most people I know, I always hated school. Why is that?

The answer, obvious to me now, is that i didn’t like what I was learning. I don’t think my primary problem was with the subjects themselves: I taught myself about numbers before first grade so I could follow baseball statistics, and I was writing plays (albeit short ones) in second grade. It was something deeper.

One of the difficulties we have in thinking or speaking about the problems of our school system is that we presume the primary purpose of school is to help children learn how to read, write, and do arithmetic. This is an understandable mistake, but one we continue to make at our peril. For more is at stake in the process of schooling than mere booklearning or even the development of character. The process of schooling gives children the tools they can – and often must – use to survive after graduating into “the real world”, and teaches them what it is to be a member of our culture. Not often enough asked are the question: “What sort of tools are these? and, What is it to be member of this culture? In other words, we might be well served to ask what sorts of beings we are creating by the process of schooling.

It’s not possible to talk about schooling without talking about socialization. It’s not possible to talk about socialization without talking about society, and what society values. We are told that standardized testing must be imposed to make sure students meet a set of standardized criteria so that they will later be able to fit into a world that is itself increasingly standardized. Never are we asked, of course, whether it’s good thing to standardize children (sorry, I mean students), knowledge, or the larger world. But none of this is really the point at all, and to believe so is to fall into the fallacy that school is about learning information, not behaviors.

I learned to not talk out of order, and to not question authority–not openly, at least–for fear of losing recess time, or later of losing grade points. I learned to not ask difficult questions of overburdened or impatient teachers, and certainly not to expect thoughtful answers. I learned to mimic the opinions of teachers, and on command to vomit facts and interpretations of those facts gleaned from textbooks, whether I agreed with the facts or interpretations or not. I learned how to read authority figures, give them what they wanted, to fawn and brownnose when expedient. In short, I learned to give myself away.

Schools are succeeding all too well, accomplishing precisely their purpose. And what is their primary purpose? To answer this, ask yourself first what society values most. We don’t talk about it much, but the truth is that our society values money above all else, in part because it represents power, and in part because it is also true of power, it gives us the illusion that we can get what we want. But one of the costs of following money is that in order to acquire it, we so often have to give ourselves away to whomever has money to give in return. Bosses, corporations, men with nice cars, women with power suits. Teachers. Not that teacher have money, but in the classroom they have what money elsewhere represent: power. We live in a culture that is based on the illusion – and schooling is central to the creation and perpetuation of this illusion – that happiness lies outside of us, and specifically in the hands of those who have power.

It should surprise us less than it does that educational system destroy students’ souls. From the beginning, that has been the purpose.

There’s really only one question in life, and only one lesson. The question: Who are you? The lesson: We’re born or sprouted or hatched or congealed or we fall from the sky, we live, and then we die or are worn away or broken or disperse into a river, lake, or sea, ripples flowing outward to bounce back from the far shore. And in the meantime, in that middle, what are you going to do? How are you going to find, and be, who you are? Who are you, and what are you going to do about it?

If modern industrial education – and more broadly industrial civilization – requires “the subsumption of the individual,” that is, the conversion of vibrant human being into “automata,” that is, into a pliant workforce, then the most revolutionary thing we can do is follow our hearts, to manifest who we really are. And we are in desperate need of revolution, … We’re killing the planet, we’re killing each other, and we’re killing ourselves.

Beneath the trappings and traumas that clutter and characterize our lives, who are you, and what do you want to do with the so-short life you’ve been given? We could not live the way we do unless we avoided that question, trained ourselves and others to avoid that question, forced others to avoid placing that question in front of us, and in fact attempted to destroy those who do.

Although it was a math classroom, it was clear that the real point was, as always, submission to authority.

Grades are a cudgel to bludgeon the unwilling into doing what they don’t want to do, an important instrument in inculcating children into a lifelong pattern of subservience to whatever authority happens to be thrust over them.

Derrick Jensen


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