the ballad of noam chomsky

"too much reading"

"These are the years that you're supposed to go fuckin' wild, blame it all on your parents or society, not have to suffer consequences. Have unprotected sex. Go do drugs. Smoke cigarettes. Drink alcohol. Watch porno. Rent porno movies. Get porno magazines. Porno porno porno. Do whatever the hell you want. Go pick fights. Stay out all night. Go look at the stars. Hang out with friends. Go do what you want. Be reckless. Go to concerts. All that stuff. These are your teen years. And what are you sitting at home having to do? Homework." – Morgan Moss

In Stephen King's novella The Long Walk, the biggest event in post-apocalyptic America is an annual race-walk featuring a hundred boys. To ensure a lively pace, flatbed trucks carrying soldiers shadow them along the side of the road. Whenever their speed falls below three miles an hour, the soldiers bark out a warning. The fourth time, they get shot. The contestants hike down I-95 until they're killed or drop dead of exhaustion. The last survivor receives The Prize. The Prize is anything the winner desires. The Prize is all anyone ever talks about. In the end, of course, there is no prize. After the crowds go home, the winner is quietly executed.

In pre-apocalyptic America, parents force their kids to run an eighteen-year-long marathon for a similarly futile remnant of the American Dream called The Promise. Graduate from the right college, The Promise goes, and you'll learn all you need to know, land a good job, have a great life. The catch is that you have to survive countless filters – grades, tests, demographics, luck – to get into a good school. For the lucky few, college is a worthwhile learning experience, vital to shaping the leaders of tomorrow. Just kidding. College students mainly learn how to fuck, snooze, and get soused.

[sigh] College is for suckers…like me.

"College-bound" students devote their childhoods to the hope of receiving a thick letter from a college admissions office. They join cheesy activities they don't really like: student government, marching band, Latin Club, yearbook. They invest hundreds of dollars on test-prep courses for the PSAT, ACT, and SAT. Then they take tests again – as many as four times – to raise their scores.

So you've gotten into the school of your dreams? Don't ease up now! The same vicious atmosphere of competition prevails here – you'll need the right grades to get the right college recruitment offer from the right company, or even make it to graduation. Given up on the job market? You'll still need at least a 3.5 GPA to get into a good graduate school! The treadmill never stops.

Until the day your heart stops beating, people will ask you where you went to college. Your answer to that cocktail-party question will often determine what people think of you, what jobs you'll be considered for, whether or not you'll be promoted, whether your in-laws will approve of you. If you're lucky, your glowing personality, savvy wit and stunning achievements can overcome an education deficit…if you're lucky. You won't even be safe from the cult of college when you die; your alma mater will rate a prominent mention in your obituary.

Most of college is a waste of time though. For full-time students, classes take up to perhaps fifteen hours a week. If they're diligent, they may study and work on assignments perhaps another fifteen hours. The rest is down time – numerous naps, soap operas on TV, marathon sex sessions and learning about drugs from friends. Not that sex and TV and sleeping are bad or anything, but should we really spend four years of our lives screwing and sleeping?

Arguably, most classes are worthless too. Many are rehashes of topics you already studied in high school; others move too slowly to offer an intellectual challenge. Still others are taught by inept graduate students or professors with no interest in teaching. Few classes are devoted to intellectual exploration or problem-solving. English lit students parrot what they suspect their professors want to hear. Chemistry professors jot formulas on the chalkboard; students are so busy copying them into their notebooks that they don't have time to think about what they mean. The real work will occur at night when they try to unravel the stuff on their own. Grades are capricious and therefore worthless.

Worst of all, most college students learn to regurgitate information rather than think for themselves. They take notes as their professors blather on and on, but rarely question them out of fear of getting low grades. They read books outside class, then they come in to be told what they mean. They've been programmed for employment.

In an ideal world, education would be customized to the needs and desires of every student. In reality, college students work through codified curricula that fit a school's lowest common denominator. This rote regurgitation that passes for thought is excellent training for working as a corporate drone, but it's not an education.

Thank you, Ted Rall.


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