The most recent episode of The A Life, about asexuality and school, got me thinking about my own life between the ages of 6 and 18. We're all told that "adulthood" (and I do air quotes here for a reason) will be better than school, however, it's astonishing how similar "adulthood" is to childhood. I've found myself wondering why I've stayed so long at a job that has convinced me that hell is really on earth (Warning: Hell isn't red, it's beige). And I think it's for the same reason that women may not fight their attackers: I've been set up to think and behave a certain way, and I can't easily slough it off, even if I want to. All throughout school, this is the message I was given:
"Sit down, shut up, and do as you're told. If you have a problem, keep it to yourself. If you have a valid concern, which you won't, there's nothing that can be done about it. If you follow our unwritten rules perfectly, you will be rewarded with neglect. If you dare to question anything you will be tormented and abused. We're right, you're wrong."
And this is supposed to be our "preparation for adulthood" and for the workplace? What kind of horror is this "adulthood", that it would suit us well to become silent victims of circumstance? While some lucky few among us might be told to think for ourselves in school, that message can be easily lost in the strength of the message above. It's astounding that I'm capable of even one independent thought, and it's not surprising that I second-guess myself constantly and feel comfortable beating myself up. Adulthood is a range of ages beyond 18. "Adulthood" is a means of social control. Adulthood has something to do with freedom, responsibility, and citizenship. "Adulthood" has something to do with accepting your fate and your "place", the place that was marked out for you in elementary school.
I took a break in the middle of writing this post. I was going to come back and do a more explicit tie-in to asexuality, but in the meantime, I'd read a few pages of this book A People's History of the United States. And in the couple of pages I read were some criticisms of school as a breeding ground for yes-men. Oddly enough, observers in the 1800s had similar things to say about school as I do. Howard Zinn writes:
...the spread of public school education enabled the learning of writing, reading, and arithmetic for a whole generation of workers, skilled and semiskilled, who would be the literate labor force of the new industrial age. It was important that these people learn obedience to authority. A journalist observer in the 1890s wrote: "The unkindly spirit of the teacher is strikingly apparent; the pupils, being completely subjugated to her will, are silent and motionless, the spiritual atmosphere of the classroom is damp and chilly"
...Joel Spring, in his book Education and the Rise of the Corporate State, says: "The development of a factory-like system in the nineteenth-century schoolroom was not accidental." (263)
From an early age, we're trained to be on "search and destroy" mode for people's differences. At the risk of sounding like a bad movie review, it's a testament to the human spirit that there are some tolerant and open-minded people in the world as it is, even if there might not be as many of them as we'd prefer. The dichotomy of destroyer and destroyed is something I would like to leave behind with the 1890s.