Craig Madrak Jr. is a student at Norristown Area High School. Recently he gave a speech to the School Board that has gained national attention.
Here is the entire transcript of Craig Madrak's speech reprinted with his permission:
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 public 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 will be accomplishing that goal in a few short months. 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 am about to complete 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? Before, I had no clue about what I want to do with my life; I had 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, I was 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. (Gatto)
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 a great friend of mine, Miranda Cravetz, 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.
Our education system is based on outcome; students must meet this outcome or they are viewed as failing. Those who meet the outcome are passed on as completed in the training and no longer needed in the system. The system is systematic. First the standard is set. What is mastery? How good is good enough? How much adaptability to change is too much adaptability to change? Then the students need to be tested to see if they meet the standard. Then the instructor must remediate the students. If the student does not meet the standard, the instructor will bring in a curriculum, or an activity or a program that will in some way change their behavior to make them meet the standard.
At first glance, the system seems like it would work. However, the system is flawed throughout. The standards set are not of education and academics, but of indoctrination and conformity. If you do not meet these standards, which are themselves very low, you must be conditioned to meet these goals with some program. These programs are delivered to every student despite their individual results on the assessment. This is another flaw: students spend time relearning things they can already do. They waste time learning medial concepts rather than expanding their minds; they conform to policy rather than pursue their passion; they learn collectively rather than finding themselves.
To remediate the students, teachers are instructed to force students to regurgitate information rather than to assimilate concepts. They are not challenged and put to their highest potential. The high achieving students are pulled down in order to push up students who do not meet the standard. The students are conditioned to behave a certain way, to meet the standard and be done. After meeting the standard, there is nothing left to pursue. This is one of the most destructive flaws in the system. High achieving students are conditioned to mediocrity, practice mediocrity and thus are mediocre products.
There are two worlds of which we are aware, the collective and the individual. I think the beauty of experience often gets lost due to the natural tendency to amalgamate the two, leading people to function, to live as direct reactants solely to the collective. In looking at achievements, successes and desires within the world, we miss the splendor and immensity in our ability to experience. Success does not come about when you get what you desire. Success itself is an idea originating from the mind of the individual. Success, if you would, comes from your ability to desire, the ability for mankind to experience desire, love and hurt. We must not relinquish our minds to our juggernaut of a world.
Education institutionalism creates products of collectivism. They force students to conform to a single standard set for everyone rather than individual standards. This is where we get lost. We are forced to obey the same standard even though each of us is different and can perform differently, whether that is above or below this standard. But education institutionalism makes us obey the same standard. They force us to regurgitate the same information whether or not this information is beneficial to us as citizens, or as people. We are conditioned to conform to this standard.
We, as people, 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 17 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 us out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, we should not be disheartened. We still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical, and create our own perspective. We must demand a setting that will provide us with intellectual capabilities that allow us to expand our mind instead of directing it. We must demand that we be interested in class. We must demand that the excuse, “You have to learn this for the test” is not good enough for us. 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 incompetence 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 us that have left or soon will be 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.