Student choices, not school system responsible for ‘factory’ mindset.


From John Stafford’s carping reflections on his college experience (“University system numbs minds,” March 23), it is hard to tell whom exactly he blames for his cynicism. He claims “we (are) in a factory whose goal is to systematically turn the youth into robots,” enforcing “a mentality that had been implanted…from the elementary level, the skill of deciphering what the teacher wanted to hear.” Yet he also seems dimly aware that the “system” does not aim to produce these futile cycles of memorization, regurgitation and amnesia, because he simultaneously calls this “cheat(ing) the system.”

So what Stafford really describes is not institutional mechanization, but the choice he made, long ago, of a performance strategy designed to maximize validation and minimize intellectual labor; indeed, he continues to view externalities like grades (“what good was the grade?”) and employment (“although it might look good to employers”) as supposedly conferring value on his “degree.” (The word “education” appears nowhere in the column.)

That he was encouraged in this choice by a shallow culture, and not discouraged from it by his professors, does not make it any less his choice, or absolve him of responsibility for it. I find it curious, then, that he can bewail the demise of “individual thought” as a collective failure, when by his own admission he never had the courage to pursue it or the discipline to attain it. Perhaps he believes, paradoxically, that “individual thought” ought to have been spoon-fed to him, like the mere “information” he considers antithetical to it? That it should be not only easy, but made easy for him8212;and sound like the narcissistic, vacuous Tupac Shakur lyrics he pipes into his head as a substitute?

Grow up, John. Your education is whatever you choose to make it.

Richard Preiss,
Professor, Department of English