Today is Career Day at my daughter’s school. Apparently, this is a BIG DEAL, because she has been coming home stressed out for the past few weeks – stressed about…Career Day. Why? She says that there is incredible pressure at her school for kids to be staking out their career choices, making decisions about their career lives. And as is typical with kids, many use this as a chance to brag, or boast, or claim to be better than other kids. And as is typical with adults, praise is heaped on those who have great career ideas, or who have practical career goals. Anybody who dares to say “I don’t know” when asked what their career path is, or says something impractical like “I want to be an artist”, gets the stare down, the rolled eye, and the admonition to get it together.
My daughter is in tenth grade.
And I am thinking…what the hell? 16 year old kids are being pressured to make career choices. It sounds like something from an Orwellian dystopia. Well…I guess actually it is. I guess…sadly…that is a good description of our society and our educational system.
16 year olds are carbon-based bags of raging hormones. How can they be expected to make sane choices about a career that will lock them into a life path for the next 50 years? What kind of insanity promotes that idiocy?
I’ll tell you…the machine of the public education system. Things like Career Day make it obvious that the public education system is first and foremost a system. It is a machine, and its goal is to hammer out nice, compliant, unthinking automatons that can fit into society and not make waves and not think outside the box. The goal of public education is to conform, not minds, but lives…by using a cookie cutter approach to the most important decisions that people make.
So, kids who make decisions to follow the herd, to become nice compliant citizens, are praised, rewarded with recognition, become teacher’s favorites, and are allowed to proceed without Ritalin down the assembly line. Kids who question, who actually think, who dream or envision a different future for themselves are ridiculed, ostracized, pigeon-holed (you know, the “drama” kids – tell me it isn’t so) and often are punished by teachers and administration alike. They are certainly bullied, alienated within their peer group, and are forced to learn a hard lesson – if you don’t compromise, if you don’t fit in, you won’t be accepted.
And that is how the system wins.
America has been churning out unthinking automatons for years – certainly since the advent of the public education system, which was not in place at the beginning of the last century.
I told my daughter to forget about Career Day, and to boldly challenge anybody who would try and belittle her desire to be an artist and performer. I don’t know what she will actually do…but I know one thing. At home, she will not get pressure to “make up her mind” about a career. Not now, and not in the near future. I want her to continue to learn, to question, to grow, to challenge, to dream, to resist the machine as long as humanly possible. I know it will not be an easy path for her…as if living in the machine is easy. But…maybe…she will break free. And that is the best legacy I can give her; that, and unconditional love and acceptance – regardless of what her choice – or lack of choice – about a career may be.