Best Valedictorian Speech Ever?

I was impressed enough to believe this was a fake, but I found the YouTube of Erica Goldson reading it at her graduation.

YouTube here.

Coxsackie-Athens Valedictorian Speech 2010

Here I Stand

Erica Goldson

There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, “If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years . .” 
The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast — How long then?” Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.” “But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?” asked the student. “Thirty years,” replied the Master. “But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?” 
Replied the Master, “When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.”

This is the dilemma I’ve faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn’t you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.

I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I’m scared.

John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, asserts, “We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids into truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. But we don’t do that.” Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt.

H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. … Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim … is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States.

To illustrate this idea, doesn’t it perturb you to learn about the idea of “critical thinking.” Is there really such a thing as “uncritically thinking?” To think is to process information in order to form an opinion. But if we are not critical when processing this information, are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth?

This was happening to me, and if it wasn’t for the rare occurrence of an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan, who allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, I would have been doomed. I am now enlightened, but my mind still feels disabled. I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this ostensibly sane place really is.

And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.

We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special, so aren’t we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.

The saddest part is that the majority of students don’t have the opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can’t run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be – but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.

For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, do not be disheartened. You still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical, and create your own perspective. Demand a setting that will provide you with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it. Demand that you be interested in class. Demand that the excuse, “You have to learn this for the test” is not good enough for you. Education is an excellent tool, if used properly, but focus more on learning rather than getting good grades.

For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake.

For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth.

So, here I stand. I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. I was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. I couldn’t have accomplished this without all of you. It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of you who were my competition, yet my backbone. In that way, we are all valedictorians.

I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, those who maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me, but I hope this farewell is more of a “see you later” when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. But first, let’s go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we’re smart enough to do so!

The President Is Trolling Me

I’ve been good. I haven’t done a “stupid and lazy” post for months.

Then the President had to go and say this:

A few months ago, I approved a proposal to consider new, limited offshore drilling under the assurance that it would be absolutely safe

Awwwwwww.

That’s just not fair! While there seems to be a mad hunt on for the real killerswhoever told Obama that drilling was safe, how detached from reality do you have to be to believe that sinking a metal pole into the ground, a mile under water, in order to rupture it and suck out the liquid could possibly be even remotely safe? It’s a marvel of engineering that we don’t get spills all the time!

This is dumber than the insurance thing. How am I not supposed to respond to that?

OK, some people think he’s just lying, for political cover.
But how on earth can he think that makes him look good? Someone told me something completely impossible and I believed it, therefore I’m not responsible.

Well, maybe he doesn’t, maybe it’s even more cynical: If I say this, they’ll believe that I’m not responsible.

This is rule by experts, people.
Learn to love it.
(Click on the OISAL keyword to see other posts in this series.)

Black Holes? Yeah: Racist

Buncha twits tweeted about this NAACP vs. Hallmark story, which really must be watched to be believed. It’s a must-see.

A cynical person might wonder if the NAACP had been holding on to this, uh, race card racist card for three years just waiting for a time when they needed to bolster the credibility of charges of racism.
“Blackness is being made fun of…again!”

Honestly, where have these people been? It’s being made fun of again since…when, exactly? “Amos and Andy”? Ted Danson’s blackface costume?
And the perpetrator of this heinous crime? That edgy, boundary-pushing comedic daredevil known as Hallmark. That’s right, Hallmark made a card that talks about “black whores”. It’s just like them.
Do these people realize how stupid they look? Indeed, are?

More than anything, they remind me of the stories my dad would tell about when he was a kid and he heard about some new dirty rock and roll song. He’d of course immediately go get the single and play it (over and over again) trying to hear the dirty words.
He was always disappointed. But then, he was honest about what he heard.
These guys? They’re nothing more than the modern incarnation of the FBI playing the Kingsman’s rendition of “Louie, Louie” over and over again, trying to hear the dirty words.

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 29: Stacy And Clinton’s Revenge

“Dr. Girlfriend can really wear a deep V.”

“Quoth The Flower. For context, she watches a lot of "What Not To Wear” and has lately been on a “Venture Bros” kick. Dr. Girlfriend typically wears a pink minidress and pillbox hat (imagine a “Sexy Jackie Kennedy” Halloween outfit, or just look here, though she doesn’t know who Jackie O is) but since she married arch-villain The Monarch, she thought she should wear a new outfit as Dr. Mrs. The Monarch.
She then went back to counting all the gay characters in the show. My pride in her was only reflected in my shame over my parenting skills in letting her watch the wildly inappropriate show.

A Rare Week

Didn’t hit the movies this weekend, first time this year, I think. Certainly since I got the new job. Last week hit How To Train Your Dragon and Breathless (the 50th anniversary). Week before the Shrek 4.

Not a great sign this early in the “summer” movie season to be wanting for films to see, but the ones we’ve seen have all been various degrees of entertaining. Nothing really spectacular though.

Why I Dropped A Whole Bunch Of Semi-Celebrity Tweeters

Twitter is an interesting thing on a lot of levels. Way more interesting than it should be, really. After all, it’s just a massive stream of unrefined short communications that you tap into selectively—and then, very often, just whittle down again.

It’s so amorphous as to be only as useful as you make it, and not really designed for the OCD-types like myself. My inclination is to want to read everything someone I’m following writes, but that’s only realistic for a smallish number of people. My time being so scarce lately, when I get to Twitter, I focus on the Althouse-lists like Darcy’s coffee-hellos or Ruth Anne’s FTA list.
Even then, I have to stop myself from paging back, back, back.

I used to follow a bunch of celebrities. Not exactly A-Listers. Mostly comedians, vets and wannabes, and some musicians. But I had—and have—a rule: Mock Palin and you’re off the list.
It’s not that I’m a Palin fan, though I think she’s very clearly an admirable woman. (Also, while I’m damning with faint praise, I think it’s pretty clear at this point that of the four of them, she’d have been the most consistently sensible President.) But the smear campaign run against her was the most appalling thing I’ve seen since Junior High. And that’s about the level of it: The cool kids, who are cool solely by virtue of agreeing that they’re cool and having the megaphone, decided to hate the pretty newcomer who wasn’t one of them.
The levels of the smears were the same level, too. First they went after her for the way she dressed, then they went after her for changing the way she dressed. They fabricated lies to smear her with than echoed them back-and-forth to each other as if they were fact. Their fury, increasingly impotent though it is, continues to rail at this woman who dares to survive and flourish even though she’s hopelessly, terminally uncool.
Nobody should understand this better than a comedian. Comedians are almost universally losers. Ostracized growing up. (Maybe not Dane Cook.) Still on the outside of society in a lot of ways.
And, frankly, when I see them piling on, I find it pathetic. It’s such a cheap shot.
I forget what it was that Palin had done—maybe the “death panel” comment—but I ended up dumping most of the celebs I followed when they started mouthing off about her. I don’t even remember who they are any more, for the most part.
James Urbaniak (who plays Dr. Venture on the inestimable Venture Bros. cartoon) was particularly vile, and not the only one. I almost felt bad for dropping Michelle Collins because she actually pleaded “Please don’t drop me” right after her joke. Dana Gould—Jeez, I’ve always loved Gould’s dark schtick, which is almost entirely centered on being a doomed loser, and he, this guy who looks like he’s never been so much as camping, decided to take a shot at Palin’s grasp of reality.
Who else? Oh, the lovely and talented musician Marian Call. She actually didn’t make a comment directly because she’s smart enough to avoid those subjects, and said as much. And then…the temptation must have been too much, since she coyly linked to a really gross insult.
Does unfollowing mean I won’t be supporting these people in the future? Yeah, actually, it probably does, at least for a little while.
I’m not much for fairness, but the whole assault on the Governor was so unfair as to get my hackles up. And I think this was obvious and blatant, and anyone being honest should be able to see that.
And, come to think of it, I never see comments like that from the few A-Listers I follow. (Kelsey Grammer, Kirstie Alley, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, etc.) I think that confirms my thesis about what’s behind the attacks.

Ends, Means and the Arbitrary Execution of Power

My sister used to like to, as a sort of coup-fourré of any argument, snap “So, you’re saying the end justifies the means.”

It stumped me for a while, because everyone knows the ends don’t justify the means. But then I realized she had reframed the argument in the wrong way, and began to retort, “The means don’t require justification!” What I had realized was that she didn’t like the ends, and was attacking the means rather than just coming right out and saying she didn’t like the ends. (Sometimes she also didn’t like the means, because she really didn’t much like it when I did anything.)
I thought of this while I was driving and, as many of us do, wondering about whether I might be pulled over. I wasn’t doing anything wrong I don’t think. I wasn’t speeding, hadn’t done any reckless lane changes. I was driving the Bumblebee, which may not be compliant with all the laws. (I recently had to outfit it with a new catalytic converter to pass a smog test.)
And it reminded me of something Althouse said a while ago that appalled me: She said that universally applying the law would be horrible. I think she even used traffic laws as an example.
I, on the other hand, tend to view universal application to be a necessary requirement for justice and reasonable governance. Speed limit laws? If they were universally applied, they’d quickly be (mostly) repealed. And so it is with, I think, most of the laws—particularly “regulations”, which are of course just laws that have been passed in violation of the way the Constitution allows—would go away were they all enforced.
What this means is that the government gets to pick-and-choose who to prosecute, allowing for the arbitrary exercise of power. This is often done for political reasons, but it’s also just done because it can be.
This is particularly relevant in light of the recent James O’Keefe case, where he was prosecuted for doing what has been standard practice in journalism for as long as I can remember. Burying the lede about Senator Landrieu’s lying, the old media completely unselfconsciously is labeling O’Keefe a “criminal” and an “activist” for doing what they’ve been doing since I was born.
It’s such a dog-bites-man story these days that it’s barely worth noticing, much like the old media itself. “It’s only okay when we do it,” they’re telling us.
But this itself made me reflect on the phrase “the end justifies the means”, and how the thinking of that is meant to be the very epitome of evil.
But when you think about it, the intended end is the only thing that can rationalize any means. I mean, think about it: You suffer many injustices in your day-to-day life, don’t you? (I know I do. Well, maybe not many, but enough.) But you don’t (e.g.) fly a plane into the nearest Federal building because they ripped you off on your taxes.
OK, some people do, but we call them crazy, even if we agree they were poorly treated.
People always end up talking about Nazis when this ends/means thing comes up. But the Nazis had no trouble with the means—the means were, in fact, the point. The end was what was hazy. “We’ll kill all the Jews and life will be great!” Hitler sure didn’t believe that. He thought actually achieving that end would be awful and require him to make up a new target.
Stalin and Mao killed tens of millions. In their cases, the means actually were the ends. Yeah, I know all the blather about justice and immanetizing the eschaton and what-not, but the point of communism (and socialism and environmentalism and fascism) is raw, naked power which is what any dictator ends up with. Power and the ability to continue to exercise it.
(Sort of tangentially related, Matt & Ezra’s Excellent Adventure continues unspoiled. One of them is bound to win the Walter Duranty Award for Oustandingly Naive Journalism.)
Nothing really revelational here, I just always find it interesting when I end up analyzing something I’ve assumed for years and found it not to be all that true.

Theological Thoughts

“You know, a lot of Christians talk about how bad-ass Jesus was driving moneychangers from the Temple?”

“Yeah?”
“Yeah! But–I mean, we’re talking about a bunch of Jewish bankers! I could do that with my legs broke and a bad case of mono.”
“No, you’re thinking about it wrong.”
“How so?”
“You’re thinking pin-striped suit financial eggheads.”
“Yeah!”
“Think loan sharks. Lots and lots of loan sharks with enforcers to boot.”
“Word.”
“That’s what they say.”