The American public school system is oriented towards the socialization of students into a homogeneous body of mainstream Americans. Education beyond what’s necessary to read public newspapers is quite beside the point. This socialization, brainwashing if you will, takes place in private conversations involving only students as much as in the sheer deadness of mind imposed by drill-techniques and by the use of textbooks deliberately aimed to be in the comfort zone of the typical student. Any student who might actually learn something is going to mostly learn to hate learning, at least formal learning, in such an environment.
I can remember being lulled into a laziness — I expected to go to college and do well while continuing to not study and to sleep through classes. I can also remember being trained to be a television watcher by peer-pressure. It was difficult to participate in most conversations unless you followed pro sports, rock-and-roll, and the hit television shows. So I cut back on my reading and watched the Monkees. And I continued to sleep through classes that were little more than efforts to keep the attention of students not interested at all in reading or arithmetic and to help the students of some middling talent. I learned to drop my effort level and to coast in my intellectual efforts while enjoying the fruits of American mass culture.
So I learned to mimic the the more socially inclined students. I can remember that the movement from classroom to classroom in sixth grade was upsetting because my ability to concentrate was still strong enough that sometimes, in mostly seventh grade, the teacher had to yell at me to bring me out of my efforts to concentrate on something I had learned the night before in my free readings or maybe something I’d found interesting in a later section of a textbook, a section we wouldn’t reach in class. That truly was one the aspects of the socializing process of the American public school system. The teaching methods and the logistical problems of processing so many young cattle on the hoof leads to the destruction of concentration and intensity in any students who are unwilling to be at war with the system. This is where it helps to be gifted in the way of Einstein who was sure enough of himself that he was non-cooperative with the coercive German school system to the point of obnoxiousness.
I’ll put the problem bluntly: students who are paying attention to teacher or fellow-students aren’t necessarily learning. Math is not only hard, it’s also lonely for the most part. So is real history which require immense hours of simply reading good history books and even primary sources such as the autobiography of a great man — I remember reading sections of the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and enjoying it when I was young. Math, history, or any other meaningful field of study require long hours of practice at problem-solving or writing and maybe long hours of contemplation to be able to re-orient one’s thoughts in a proper disciplined direction.
Now, scientists have verified part of this problem for school systems that want pliable students attentive to their teacher and fellow-students rather than students capable of learning difficult material. It seems that serious thought, serious digestion of difficult material reaquires concentration of the sort that forces the student into a temporary non-social state — see Knowing Looks: Using Gaze Aversion To Tell When Children Are Learning. Truly talented students, the ones who might actually be able to find solutions for some of the difficult problems on our growing list of technological and cultural disasters might well go into strange, inward-looking states for hours at a time — if they were allowed to develop their minds and their souls.
I don’t wish to cast aspersions upon public-school teachers as a group because many of them are dedicated and hardworking souls who care about their students — though I think we should be more concerned to have at least some teachers who care a little about the subjects they teach. Imagine a dedicated, hardworking teacher in front of 35 students, some of them not having even basic habits of self-control and others (especially boys in younger grades) not having proper hand-control for writing legibly even if they can read, some not having much in the way of intellectual talent and others having too much energy to sit still long enough even if they come from good homes. Is it possible that teacher won’t notice that little Albert with the downcast eyes is daydreaming about deeper meanings and further possible uses of the very material being taught? Is it possible that this little Albert, unlike the more famous bad student, doesn’t have an engineer uncle to help develop his mind by teaching him Euclidean geometry at a young age? Is it possible that the schools will be damaging the talents of this little Albert as they force him on a schedule convenient for a bureaucracy processing human children as if raw materiel? Is it the schools, as much as television and the general rush-rush of modern life, which is destroying the concentration that would allow him to handle difficult and important problems?