My name is Rene Anthony Ponce. I am a typical 26-year-old college graduate living at home with Mommy and Daddy while working a part-time job, looking for another one, all the while attempting to find a way to put my degree in Music (emphasis in Vocal Performance, a stupidly fancy way of saying “singing”) to use in today’s tough economy. That, and the crippling thought of personal responsibility looms over my shoulder like Big Brother (although as many Americans are now aware, Big Brother has already been watching us for a while.)
So what am I to do now? I spent six prime years of my young adult life sitting in extended high school education classes (known colloquially as general education,) only one-third of which prepared me to do what my degree suggested: sing, but better. And now I can. Ask anyone who knows me. I no longer feel the need to be subtle in my opinion of my own singing voice: it’s pretty darn good. But it doesn’t pay my rent.
Many a day have I spent languishing in the dark prison of my mind, wondering if this is how life was meant to be. All I have heard from the politicians and news media since the 2016 election is how much of a victim I am of circumstances beyond my control. Here are some things I was supposed to learn from last year’s political deluge:
I was coerced into submitting myself to a virtual slave contract by taking out thousands of dollars in student loans for a degree that had no guarantee of employment afterwards. My brown skin was assurance enough that I would have a more difficult time progressing in society than my white friends. But hey, I was lucky enough to be born a male and raised a Protestant Christian, complete with a Pentecostal pastor from the Midwest and enough old people to make every day in church look like a southern revival.
The problem with my life is that my minimum wage job just doesn’t pay me enough. It’s tempting to think that raising my pay would help! $15 an hour for seating guests at a restaurant and taking phone calls for reservations?! Sign me up! And California seems intent to do just that. By the year 2020, I should be making $15 an hour at my job, but while the State of California sees that as progress, I will be devastated and thoroughly disgusted with myself if I am still working as a restaurant host by the age of 30.
A while back, when I first began my college degree, I was an avid reader and writer. New material excited me, and my college professors (the lowly class known as city college professors, or teachers, as some called them out of disrespect,) encouraged a sort of open source learning, a learning that was mostly self-driven and dependent upon the student choosing how best to approach the material placed before them. This was most evident in my English and Creative Writing courses, where structure was well maintained, but just as well ignored.
About that time I learned of a former New York schoolteacher named John Taylor Gatto. My penchant for conspiracy theories and staying up late led me to an overconsumption of late-night material easily found and best digested very slowly on that most wonderful of social media websites, YouTube. To my surprise, a video about how American culture was on the verge of collapse led me to this gentlemen, a man of notable experience and repute in the educational world. What he had to say about the state of education in the United States shocked me to my core, and yet, somehow I knew what he’d been saying was true all along.
Gatto references in his books Dumbing Us Down and Weapons of Mass Instruction, the development of the modern school and its true purpose for existing: that the ultimate goal of school is to produce a populace easily controlled, manipulated, forced to consume out of perceived necessity, not to question authority, and to have the illusion that marking the correct circles on multiple choice tests and regurgitating the thoughts of others will allow them to be successful in their lives. (I cannot possibly do his work justice, I recommend you read his work yourself. These books and others can be found/requested at your local library, and you may even find recordings on YouTube of his work, as well as interviews with the man himself.)
At first, I did not want to believe this man. This teacher of 30 years surely was a burnt out, no good fool wanting to make a few bucks by negating the very institution he helped propagate for three whole decades. But the more I read his material, read his references and examples, and listened to plain common sense and my own small amount of common sense, it all started to come together.
The public school system does not prepare children for adulthood. It prepares children to remain children, just grown into adult bodies.
We are not to produce, we are to consume. The key to life as an adult is to produce more than we consume, and many of us are ill-equipped for the task.
Combine this knowledge that I subsequently ignored for the past six years and the fact that I, a product of the public school system carried on well into my college years, am less successful than my younger sister, who was homeschooled and now carries on a professional life as a firefighter, I am fully perturbed.
During my schooling years, I never could come to a rational conclusion as to how I should pursue a career or what I should study, but my teachers always encouraged me. They were not negligent prolongers of childhood but cogs in a machine much larger than they themselves, and many of them saw in me, the qualities they possessed: a thirst for knowledge, a willingness to learn more than was asked of the average student, and a curiosity not to be hindered. However, I did not possess the work ethic of a teacher. Homework, filling in blanks, and making presentations bored me to tears, and upon entering middle school, I took it upon myself to do no more than was asked of me to pass the class if I did not have a strong interest in the subject. This was to my detriment as far as grades were concerned, but through my stubbornness, I have learned valuable lessons: School is boring. Learning is not. Education in itself is one of the most important endeavors an individual will take on, even more so if one decides to become a teacher.
But school, that terrible edifice of regulation and stymied growth, was both a curse and a prison.
With this in mind, I am entering the world of teaching with caution. I have been given the opportunity to teach homeschool teenagers the wonders of American government, economics, and perhaps more. The money will be tight, the prestige will be little, but the freedom is sacrosanct to me. I will have the opportunity to teach the material as I please, and in a manner that engages my students in every way I see possible.
I see this as a great and grand calling, though few will know what I am doing or what I’ve done.
There is a possibility it will end in failure. There is a possibility it will lead to triumph! There’s an even greater possibility that it will be just another way for me to make a little money for another six month period. I know, besides all this, that my goal is to educate these students in an open learning environment, where they can be free to digest the material at their own speed, and learn to incorporate the seriousness of political discussion, voting, and governmental authority into their lives. We are still a free society, and I will be remiss in my duties as a teacher if I do not teach them well. I believe God will reward my efforts. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it.