“I set myself an assignment, to get every race united”

28 Jun
A young intellectual's rejection of institutional education

A page from a young intellectual’s notebook

This poem was written by one of my students, and I am sharing it with his permission.  He self-identifies as indigenous, from Oaxaca and South Park.    In this poem, he talks about how school reproduces white supremacy, and concludes that in order to stop this he needs to set himself an assignment, to unite the  races against the system, replacing the rich white people’s state apparatus with multi-racial “self-government”.

In my experience, this poem is a solid representation of a growing anti-racist and anti-capitalist philosophical tendency among the youth I work with, most of whom have dropped out or fallen behind in school.  I have met dozens of students like this author, who are tired of the Eurocentric curriculum, high stakes testing, and discipline of the schools.  They say these exist only to prepare them for non-existent jobs or mountains of college debt they will never pay back.

They say they are tired of the beef  (conflicts) that high school concentrates, where the classrooms become like  prison yards dividing and conquering Blacks vs. Mexicans vs. Natives, with the help of police who instigate this violence in the name of  controlling gangs.   They are also struggling to create an  intellectual milieu of  thinkers who are willing to learn from each other, through hip hop, independent  social media,  some critical engagement with anarchist and communist revolutionary literature, and  social movements like Occupy, anti-police brutality protests, etc.   At times, this intellectual tendency  is expressed as criticism of current events (such as the Seattle media’s portrayal of May Day protestors mentioned in this poem), and other times it is expressed as conspiracy theories about the Illuminati (which can go in either left wing or right wing directions).

While some teachers and other adults may dismiss this author because of his stridency, his “slang”, or his spelling errors, they would be missing out on a chance to understand the frustrations, the ideas, and the desires of one of the people who will be most likely to create  movements that will shake this society to it’s core.

I also want to mention that some of the students who reject and criticize school also defend their schools from budget cuts and other neoliberal attacks; students have walked out on this basis across the country.   Some have emphasized they want some stability in their lives, and are looking for this in classrooms which they don’t want disrupted by school closings and repeated teacher layoffs and transfers.  Isn’t it possible to desire this stability while still rebelling against the control and conformity that come along with it under the current system?

In any case, if these youth can manage to create ways to learn and “do their research” together as this poem says, they just may be able to develop the theories and strategies necessary to start a movement.  And that movement might flow back into the classrooms, shaking up the education system in some necessary ways.  It just might infuse classroom discussions with a defribulator’s voltage  of critical, social creativity and self-government – enough to break through  the schools’ control systems, creating more freedom for all of us.

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