I’ve been going to school for about 18 years. You don’t last 18 years in the cruel world of academia without learning some serious tricks of the student trade. One of my favorite high school techniques was to stare intently at my teachers as they spouted their nonsense. I always appeared to be paying close attention, but I was actually just imagining armies of naked clowns frolicking in poppy fields. Naked clowns are generally much more entertaining than high school teachers.
I’ve grown up a bit in the past few years, but I still find myself drifting off into daydreams during most of my classes. I guess I miss the good old days, when going to school meant playing on the swings and doing basic mathematics. I loved that early arithmetic. One of the first equations that I learned was “you + the tire swing = fun.” One of the second equations that I learned was “you + the tire swing = vomit.” The overall lesson? Too much of a good thing can be bad.
This isn’t the only lesson that I learned in elementary school. I also learned that bugs taste like Skittles, that diapers aren’t fashionable attire beyond the age of 8 and that it’s not acceptable to brandish your penis like a sword and urinate all over the school’s bathroom. These early lessons have proven invaluable, but I think the real reason that I yearn for those glory days is because the schoolwork itself was so easy. We really didn’t have much responsibility. We mostly just sat around, cut things with scissors and sniffed paste. It was a little slice of paradise. Then middle school happened.
Middle school was the beginning of the end. Teachers stopped treating me like a kid and starting expecting real work that required real thought. These demanding assignments called for drastic measures. I soon developed a powerful new academic technique: the binge and purge. The binge and purge involves a mass last-minute ingestion of facts that you temporarily memorize in order to pass a particular test. Once the test is over, you completely forget almost everything that you “learned.” This technique has been the backbone of my scholastic strategy for about 10 years.
A wise man once said, “Procrastination is like masturbation. It’s a lot of fun until you realize that you’re only fucking yourself.” What this wise man forgot to mention is that it’s also a lot of fun after you realize that you’re only fucking yourself. I’m not necessarily proud of my study habits, but I know that I’m not the only one who utilizes the binge and purge technique. There are a lot of us out there. Our success demonstrates a key flaw in the United States educational system: You can get pretty damn far without really learning much of anything.
The real problem with most exams is that they only test your knowledge on one particular day of your life. It doesn’t matter if you actually have a lasting understanding of the material. If you can whip yourself into shape for that brief exam period, then you can generally pass your classes and move on to the next round of the $64,000 education pyramid. Before you know it, you’ll have a degree.
If people can progress through the highest levels of our educational system without actually learning anything, then can we really say that our system is effective? It seems clear to me that the endless stream of tests and essays is only moderately effective at stimulating real, applicable learning. It requires no actual immersion and does almost nothing to promote the type of individual study that actually bears intellectual fruit.
Our educational system is like one of those giant, air-filled Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade floats. It’s expensive and it looks nice, but it doesn’t offer much substance. If we really want to start spreading knowledge, then we need to revamp our entire system. We need teachers who will capture our attention and stimulate our imaginations. The solution is simple: All of our classes should be taught by naked clowns.
Daily Nexus columnist Nick Pasto can do his multiplication tables whenever you ask, as long as you give him enough Elmer’s first.