One system does not work for everyone
One System Does Not Work for Everyone
When I was in middle school, I had to take a physical education class every other day. Every week, on the last day of class, our teachers would let us choose a sport that we wanted to play: kick ball, soccer, basketball or walking. Of course, I chose soccer every time - it is my favorite sport to play. After about three weeks, the teachers realized that the same people were picking the same sports to play every time. They announced that since some students were dominating one sport, they were going to create a structured space for all students to play each sport. So they put us in groups and rotated us throughout the sports. What happened to free play? The teachers thought that students who were always walking every week secretly wanted to play soccer. They thought they were doing them a favor, but those students just stood on the field. They didn’t want to play a contact sport with lots of competition and running. They wanted to relax and think and walk.
Creating space for those who are quiet, shy, or not particularly involved to participate like ‘everyone else’ is not necessarily a good thing. Some people do not want to give presentations, answer questions or talk in class. Some people do not want to be involved in an organization at school. Some people just want to be with themselves, thinking about things, creating quietly or observing. Why do we try to force people to act in accordance with a social standard? We are human; we are artistic, analytical, logical, irrational, sensitive, calculating, and needy. Yet, social systems have evolved that we are forced to endure.
Why do we think that one system should work for everyone? Margaret Price’s book, Mad at School, argues that one system is not working for everyone, mainly people with mental illness in the education system (Price, 2011). Similarly, Jacks McNamara, a woman with bipolar disorder, also argues that one system is not conducive to everyone’s life. In the documentary film, “Crooked Beauty,” Jacks expresses that the world told her she was damaged, and they tried to “fix” her with medication. However, she advocates for people to stop trying to fit into society and rather embrace their gifts of mental disorders. The ideas presented forth by Price and Jacks can be expanded to many social aspects, even in the system that they reject. Specifically, creating space for everyone in a classroom to speak is actually detrimental for most people in the class.
The public education system in America is very selective. We sit and listen quietly. Someone in the government decides what you need to know and they test us on it. This selects for people who like sitting still, or are very good at forcing themselves to do so. It selects for people who can concentrate for long periods of time on a test. It does not include everyone, even with the “accommodations” that the school may offer. Price illustrates this point in her book, Mad at School. She argues that physically disabled students are accommodated in the education system because they are considered to have “able minds” (Price, 2011). However, she points out that students with mental disabilities appear to be congruent with the expectation of the school system, and therefore they are not accommodated at all. On the outside they seem to be able to behave and comply, but in reality, the structure of education often is not conducive to our learning styles. So what happens to them?
Price argues that academic structure was created by the privileged able mind (Price, 2011). Therefore, it continues to produce these privileged minds. The consequence of this is that the education system is accepted and fueled over and over again. We leave the education system expected to obtain credible jobs. For those of us who don’t do this, or don’t want to do this, the world tells us we are wrong. It says that we are not as successful. We are not as driven or motivated. There is something different about us - something that needs to be changed. Price instead advocates to change the education system in a way such that the classroom would be more conducive to every learning style. If a student needs to have a twenty minute class a day, that’s fine. If a student wants to take only one class, that’s fine too. But, that’s not the way the system works today. So what happens to us?
Society is willing to help us in a certain way. Medication. They say something in me is broken and damaged, but don’t worry, they can fix it. They can medicate us to shove us through the societal system so we can emerge shaped like everyone else. Jacks McNamara is a very strong, articulate woman who advocates for people with mental illness to learn to live with their gift instead of medicate it away. She had a negative experience with doctors when she was 19 years old. She had to sit in a room with people she had never met. She was expected to share her innermost feelings with strangers on her path to being fixed (Crooked Beauty). She says in the film, “Crooked Beauty,” that if she wanted to work in an office building behind a desk then she probably would have to be medicated. But, that’s not what she wants to do. A spirit like hers wants to create and see the world, feel the Earth and all its pain. She thinks that if people are given the time and space to reflect and sift through their own thoughts, then they will emerge on their own as the people they are meant to be. Maybe they will be people who will not fit into societal expectations, but they will still be truer to themselves.
The other day my teacher and I were talking about my rough patch last year when I endured a traumatic experience. She said that I was strong because I didn’t drop out of school; I didn’t give up. I was confused. Well, that wasn’t really an option, I thought, it’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to keep going to school. She said other people would have given up and gone home. Is that giving up? Or is it just knowing yourself and doing what is best for you? According to Jacks ideas, taking time to visit a space to think through trauma is better than trying to fit a mold that will never encompass all of a person. Following Jacks advice would not have worked for me. I needed to be in a set structure, a set pattern, to have some consistency in my life. So, my system wouldn’t have worked for the next person, possibly. Yet, Jacks’ system wouldn’t have worked for me either.
One system does not work for everyone. Some people can’t stand sitting still. Some aren’t interested in learning how to write because their mind is stuck on Chaos Theory. Some do not want to learn how to do long division when they could be outside watching a butterfly. Some don’t want to change the school system. Some people do not want to play soccer during free play. I do not want to walk during free play.
We are human; we are artistic, analytical, logical, irrational, sensitive, calculating, and needy. One system does not work for everyone - except maybe just living in the world.
Price, Margaret. Mad at School. University of Michagan Press: 2011.
Rosenthal, Ken Paul. “Crooked Beauty.” 2010.