Recently, I heard someone describe education as indoctrination and brainwashing. I sat in quiet contemplation pondering the fact that for 20 odd years of my life, I was a teacher. 15 of those years were spent in a private college prep school where I created and taught courses in the art of satire, gothic literature, the works of Charles Dickens, creative non-fiction. In the last two years of my career, I taught grammar and writing to middle schoolers–not a task for the faint of heart. So the criticism of teaching as “brainwashing” stung me and made me wonder if I was, indeed, a member of some vast conspiracy to control the minds of the young. After much thought, I have decided to confess: yes, I engaged in trying to mold the minds of the young.
In my literature classes, I shamelessly preached the beauty of the English language. Shakespeare and Chaucer, Hemingway and Faulkner–I tirelessly sought to influence the youth of America to read these great authors and form their own opinions about the ideas and philosophies espoused. I exposed the young to T.S. Eliot and Steinbeck, Whitman and Miller. When I could, I interjected sidebars of history–especially about the period of history related to the rise of Hitler and his abominations. Yes, I sought to sway minds. I sought to write upon the hearts of my students a desire for beauty and truth and justice.
In my creative writing classes, I shamelessly promoted the idea of the free expression of ideas. With no sense of shame, I encouraged free thought, expression of ideas and emotions, the creation of personal narratives. No student was allowed to disrespect his or her voice within my classroom. Of this I stand convicted.
In my middle school classes, I confess that I promoted a radical embrace of the concepts of grammar–that labyrinthine assemblage of wonderful rules connecting us all through our mother tongue. As the nameless poet of Beowulf proclaimed, I attempted to pass on this “inheritance,” this mother tongue. I am guilty of shamelessly propagandizing in the name of our magnificent language. I encouraged a rich and varied vocabulary and taught the tricks of oral and written rhetoric. In short, I armed my students to be revolutionary thinkers who would not be swayed by ill-conceived arguments and poor turns of phrase.
In 2016, I made the choice to step away from teaching. I could no longer endure the fact that as a teacher of language arts, I was increasingly faced with audiences with little interest in the power of language. In the New Testament, John says, “In the beginning was the WORD…”. The idea of the WORD is equated with the prime cause, the font of creation. In the world of scatter-shot political rhetoric and misleading advertising, the WORD has become a poor shadow of what it was meant to be. High Schoolers sometimes come out of the system practically illiterate and never having studied the great works of British and American literature. Civics is all but forgotten except in the most hallowed of academic halls. History is being touted as a “matter of opinion” by revisionists within the controlling political party of 2018. The Tower of Babel has been constructed, and the common language is nonsensical rant. The idea of communicating elegantly and beautifully through the written and spoken word is laughed at by the world in general.
Like some latter-day philosopher on death row for corrupting the young, I sit in a self-imposed exile from my podium. No longer will a class have to endure my passionate reading of “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” I will never again conduct a creative writing workshop in which students are asked to sit in nature quietly for 15 minutes before beginning to write in field journals. I will never talk about Emily Dickinson and her orchard to a group of open young minds. I will no longer feel the pain of knowing that I am a priestess in a dying religion.
We are in the latter days. Everything I knew and held dear is mocked and judged by this brave new world where the “n” word is the closest thing to poetry that we get. I read and re-read my beloved authors with the sound of the ocean echoing in my ears (my home is about 350 steps from the ocean). I no longer drag poems and stories and novels out onto the autopsy table to be prodded and poked by young eyes eager to learn whatever is necessary to pass a test, get into a good college, make money in Trump’s America.
We stare into a vast coming dark age, an age in which the average attention span precludes deep study and thought. We resent the lessons of history because they are harsh. We are condemned to repeat the terrible history of our race. Ignorance, hatred, and ugliness have won. America may be “great” again, but our heart is gone.
The youth of America are safe from my “brainwashing.” I shall retire to Bedlam.