Powerful...posted in its entirety. Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling in Graduation Speech                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          by Erica Goldson The following speech was delivered by top of the class student Erica Goldson during the graduation ceremony at Coxsackie-Athens High School in New York on June 25, lasix 2010 Here I stand There is a story of a young, lasix but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, lasix and asked the Master, lasix "If I work very hard and diligently, lasix how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, lasix then replied, lasix "Ten years." The student then said, lasix "But what if I work very, lasix very hard and really apply myself to learn fast – How long then?" Replied the Master, lasix "Well, lasix twenty years." "But, lasix if I really, lasix really work at it, lasix how long then?" asked the student. Lasix "Thirty years, lasix" replied the Master. Lasix "But, lasix I do not understand, lasix" said the disappointed student. Lasix "At each time that I say I will work harder, lasix you say it will take me longer. Lasix Why do you say that?" Replied the Master, lasix "When you have one eye on the goal, lasix you only have one eye on the path." This is the dilemma I've faced within the American education system. Lasix We are so focused on a goal, lasix whether it be passing a test, lasix or graduating as first in the class. Lasix However, lasix in this way, lasix we do not really learn. Lasix We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective. Some of you may be thinking, lasix "Well, lasix if you pass a test, lasix or become valedictorian, lasix didn't you learn something? Well, lasix yes, lasix you learned something, lasix but not all that you could have. Lasix Perhaps, lasix you only learned how to memorize names, lasix places, lasix and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. Lasix School is not all that it can be. Lasix Right now, lasix it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible. I am now accomplishing that goal. Lasix I am graduating. Lasix I should look at this as a positive experience, lasix especially being at the top of my class. Lasix However, lasix in retrospect, lasix I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. Lasix I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Lasix Yet, lasix here I stand, lasix and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. Lasix I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, lasix in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. Lasix But I contend that I am a human being, lasix a thinker, lasix an adventurer – not a worker. Lasix A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. Lasix But now, lasix I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. Lasix I did what I was told to the extreme. Lasix While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, lasix I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. Lasix While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, lasix I never missed an assignment. Lasix While others were creating music and writing lyrics, lasix I decided to do extra credit, lasix even though I never needed it. Lasix So, lasix I wonder, lasix why did I even want this position? Sure, lasix I earned it, lasix but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, lasix will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, lasix and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, lasix not learning. Lasix And quite frankly, lasix now I'm scared. John Taylor Gatto, lasix a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, lasix asserts, lasix "We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, lasix adventure, lasix resilience, lasix the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, lasix texts, lasix and tests, lasix by introducing kids into truly competent adults, lasix and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. Lasix But we don't do that." Between these cinderblock walls, lasix we are all expected to be the same. Lasix We are trained to ace every standardized test, lasix and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, lasix and therefore viewed with contempt. H. Lasix L. Lasix 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. Lasix ... Lasix Nothing could be further from the truth. Lasix The aim ... Lasix is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, lasix to breed and train a standardized citizenry, lasix to put down dissent and originality. Lasix That is its aim in the United States." To illustrate this idea, lasix 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. Lasix But if we are not critical when processing this information, lasix are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth? This was happening to me, lasix and if it wasn't for the rare occurrence of an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, lasix Donna Bryan, lasix who allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, lasix I would have been doomed. Lasix I am now enlightened, lasix but my mind still feels disabled. Lasix I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this ostensibly sane place really is. And now here I am in a world guided by fear, lasix a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, lasix a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. Lasix We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, lasix for work that need not be done, lasix for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. Lasix We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Lasix Our motivational force ought to be passion, lasix but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, lasix rather than inspires us. We are more than robotic bookshelves, lasix conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. Lasix We are all very special, lasix every human on this planet is so special, lasix so aren't we all deserving of something better, lasix of using our minds for innovation, lasix rather than memorization, lasix for creativity, lasix rather than futile activity, lasix for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, lasix to then get a job, lasix so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. Lasix There is more, lasix and more still. The saddest part is that the majority of students don't have the opportunity to reflect as I did. Lasix 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, lasix and worst of all, lasix they are completely unaware of it. Lasix I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. Lasix I can't run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. Lasix This part of my life is over, lasix and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. Lasix We are human beings. Lasix We are thinkers, lasix dreamers, lasix explorers, lasix artists, lasix writers, lasix engineers. Lasix We are anything we want to be – but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. Lasix A tree can grow, lasix but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation. For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, lasix do not be disheartened. Lasix You still have the opportunity to stand up, lasix ask questions, lasix be critical, lasix and create your own perspective. Lasix Demand a setting that will provide you with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it. Lasix Demand that you be interested in class. Lasix Demand that the excuse, lasix "You have to learn this for the test" is not good enough for you. Lasix Education is an excellent tool, lasix if used properly, lasix but focus more on learning rather than getting good grades. For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, lasix I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. Lasix You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. Lasix I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. Lasix You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, lasix how to teach it, lasix and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Lasix Our potential is at stake. For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, lasix I say, lasix do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Lasix Do not abandon those that come after you. Lasix We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. Lasix We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Lasix Once educated properly, lasix we will have the power to do anything, lasix and best of all, lasix we will only use that power for good, lasix for we will be cultivated and wise. Lasix We will not accept anything at face value. Lasix We will ask questions, lasix and we will demand truth. So, lasix here I stand. Lasix I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. Lasix I was molded by my environment, lasix by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. Lasix I couldn't have accomplished this without all of you. Lasix It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. Lasix It was all of you who were my competition, lasix yet my backbone. Lasix In that way, lasix we are all valedictorians. I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, lasix those who maintain it, lasix and those who stand with me and behind me, lasix but I hope this farewell is more of a "see you later" when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. Lasix But first, lasix let's go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we're smart enough to do so!