[blue rare]—A Suitable Education

In adolescence, I had watched the classic film The Kid, in which Steve McQueen plays a slick and cocky professional poker player.  Completely oblivious to any of the film’s deeper messages, and lured by visions of easy money and attractive working hours, I had briefly toyed with the idea of pursuing a career as a traveling card shark.  Wisely, though, I realized that this calling would ultimately be undermined by certain subtle “tells” that I tend to exhibit in high stakes situations, such as sweating profusely, puffing out my cheeks, running a finger around the inside of my collar, and occasionally weeping.  Likewise, I understood early on that it would be unlikely I would find success as a Formula 1 driver, NBA player, opera tenor, elite gigolo, or zeppelin pilot.  Selling weed and bartending, however, were realistic, achievable dreams that opened a lot of doors for me.

It is no small thing in life, then, to have a clear-eyed, realistic understanding of your own strengths and challenges, and to use this knowledge to facilitate making the best possible choices.  And I think providing us with these hard truths about our personal limitations is one of the most important functions of our education systems, beginning at an early age.

We know, for example, that all preschool and kindergarten classrooms are filled with horrible children, and we know that most of these deluded youngsters have an innate belief that they are talented artists, singers, scientists, athletes, and dancers.  It’s the sort of nonsense that’s drummed into them, practically from birth.  With tasteless bravado, they warble offkey melodies, perform clumsy handstands, and paint lacklustre family portraits and barely representational pictures of houses, flowers, cars, and cats.  Sadly, many of them move on through their early elementary school years with these delusions intact.

Thankfully, by the time these students arrive in high school, most of those stray sparks have been stamped out.  They have learned one of life’s most important lessons: stick to what you’re good at, or risk failure and embarrassment.

This is especially true when it comes to the realms of creativity and imagination.  Sure, you may be required to take art or music classes for the purposes of credit completion, but most times the passion is not really there anymore.  By then, you fully understand that creating art is for artists only, and will ultimately lead to penury.  Far better to devote your energy to acquiring the suitable, assembly line education needed to secure a job.

For those who forgo trade schools or the workforce, who choose to soldier on academically, this understanding is refined to perfection in our post-secondary system.  By the time students reach the halls of higher learning, pipe dreams of a well-rounded, classical education are effectively flushed away.  Entering first year, most students have an entrenched understanding that the purpose of learning is to achieve high enough grades to easily fit into the capitalist marketplace.

Of course, there is inevitably the occasional stray spark that slips through the fire grate.  Despite the best efforts of educational institutions, the occasional lost soul chooses to devote themselves to the most worthless, impractical pursuits.  They write plays, compose arias, tap dance in front of a mirror, attend auditions, collect rejection letters, doing whatever they must to chase their joy and satisfy their muse.  Once in a while, we call these people “visionaries,” or ” stars.” Most of the time, we call them baristas.

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