The purpose of this essay is to share an experience in the failure of the American public education system. I do not propose any reasons explaining the failure or remedies for it. I do not know how it happened, but it happened to me and perhaps you have a similar experience.
In high school I was living in the Northern Virginia suburbs outside of the Nation’s capital. My school district was in the top ten school districts in the country. The average house sold for close to half a million dollars and the median household income was about a hundred grand or twice the national median. My friends and I all lived in houses with six bedrooms and finished basements with pool tables. Teenagers didn’t work at McDonald’s or the grocery stores; Mexicans did. Most of our fathers were paid by the warmachine and had moved around as a result. This was the fifth house I had lived in. We moved in when Dubya was first elected.
As a kid, I had every signal from adults that I was smart. I had good grades, read on my own, watched the news, and even had a better understanding of the stock market than most adults (buy MSFT). Most of my peers fell into this category. It wasn’t a matter of “if we would go to college” it was a matter of “which college we would go to”. In sophomore year of high school, I took Advanced Placement (AP) World History. This was a major academic challenge to know-it-all smarty pants dipshits like yours truly.
“CAN YOU HANDLE A COLLEGE LEVEL COURSE???”
The course was so serious it even required homework over the summer and that it would be due the first week of school. We had to read one book from a two-page list and write an essay about what it was about. I scanned the list and found “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I couldn’t pronounce the last name of the main character or the author, but I didn’t care because it was “One Day” how long could the book possibly be? The Signet Classic copy I got from Books-A-Million, (now a toy store name “BAM!”), verified my instincts: it was tiny. After that my instincts completely failed me in understanding the significance of this book.
I followed the plot easy enough. I felt moved by many of the literary elements. As I sat behind the big bay windows of our house’s front room, August summer sun blazing, I could not shake the immense Siberian coldness coming off the pages. However, I could not grasp why the book had any significance. I had read the intro and the back cover for clues of why this book deserved to be remembered. After much thought, I concluded that the author was some bleeding heart liberal that wanted people to feel bad for poor Ivan. You know what they say,
“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time, you fucking commie criminal fuck!”
I can’t remember writing the essay, but I’m sure I squeezed out 1.49 pages of size 12 double spaced garbage that started something like,
“This essay is about the book I had to read for the summer reading assignment. The name of the book was…”
I was going to write more about the years that passed, how my education grew, my life experiences, and so forth to attempt to paint a picture of a capable semi-smart midwit; but as these memories come back to me, I cannot continue.
My father gave me some advice in my youth that is turning over in my head, gaining momentum,
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one: do it.”
Pluck the feathers from my cap, and replace them with black eyes! Throw apples at me and crush my moronic exoskeleton! Dear reader I had planned to regale you with anecdotes of misspent youth, of studying at university in a one room efficiency behind a bar with one good chair and yellow wallpaper peeling from the ceiling, of waking up in a hay barge after day drinking the day after finals, but no! I will not attempt to gain sympathy for my ignorance. I will not recall stories of wondering where all the ducks go when the pond freezes in a vain attempt to trick you into thinking you are like me. Judge me reader! Point me towards the nearest bridge! I am a sick man!
I am too full of shame to continue my narrative of how my AP World History teacher also did not understand the significance of “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”. I was still successful in the class and would receive college credit for it. Then a few years later I would read Nina Gourfinkel’s “Lenin” and not see it for the blatant piece of propaganda revisionist history that it is. Even in university, the few humanities classes I took, even the one that focused on Modernism, where we read the Communist Mani-fucking-festo didn’t talk about Solzhenitsyn, kulaks, or Soviet lead genocide at all! Why did it take a Canadian lobsterman and a racist Indonesian spearfishing forum for a burger to learn these things?
As I stated at the start of this essay, I don’t know why, and I don’t have any solutions to this educational catastrophe. While you may find me loathsome, I am not alone. I am part of an obese American consciousness that is waddling towards a persistent vegetative state . Wherever there are fat hungry idiots complaining that they can’t go out to Fuddruckers because of a global pandemic, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop arresting a multiple felon high on fentanyl, I’ll be there (with my phone). Wherever people believe that voting for a third party in a non-parliamentary system of government is a good idea, I’ll be there. And whenever people think of world history in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys”, God damn it I’ll be there too.