January 14, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 57  

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We don’t need no thought control

Thrust n' Perry
Dan Perry

News Editor

I was a lucky four-year-old.

My parents (with a little help from Sesame Street) taught me to read and when I took those fateful steps down the mean streets of Glencoe on the first day of kindergarten, I was already ahead of my classmates.

When, inevitably, the school board advised my parents I was “above” the regular education system, I was placed in French Immersion, and by Grade 3, identified as “gifted” and segregated through the now (thankfully) defunct “Extended Learning Program.”

They were wrong. The whole damn system is wrong. Sure, I could source their analysis to IQ testing or wade into the age-old “nature/nurture” debate, but I’ve only got experience to go on.

Having spent a mere four months working in two French-first-language elementary schools in London, two half-days a week, I can’t profess to be an experienced educator, but I have learned one thing: there is no reason to believe grades to be representative of intelligence.

Intelligence, as defined by academic standards, is no more than obedience. A student who does the homework, goes to class and studies for exams is undoubtedly going to get a higher grade than that of a motivated activist or a talented actor (or student journalist, for that matter) who concentrates on intellectual pursuits outside the box — ones that won’t ever be graded.

Do my (normally high) grades bring me any kind of personal satisfaction? Other than helping me get into a graduate program, they mean nothing. High school grades get you into university; undergraduate grades keep you here, then get you into graduate programs — that’s it.

In other words, once I’ve jumped through all the hoops, (potentially) carrying a high average right through a PhD, I’ll be judged on something else at a job interview — it could come down to my negligence toward haircuts.

Within the education system, you’re judged on your ability to demonstrate not necessarily learning, but compliance. I teach 40 entirely capable Anglophone children a week, helping them overcome a language barrier so they can “meet the standards.” Despite their aptitude in things mechanical or knowledge of history and geography, they’re still marginalized (not officially, of course) and get called “the dumb kids.”

Sure, kids’ peers can be cruel, but our socialization and educational systems haven’t grown up yet either: it still rewards us for fitting into pre-defined places. It’s not about what we learn in school anymore, but rather how we learn in school — and if education continues to overshadow learning, the gift of independent thought will continue to be wasted.



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