In the good ol’ days I’d fantasize about Jojo living with me and us doing his homework together. I was a dumbass. Five minutes into guiding him through a book and I’m furious. He makes this sad face when sounding out words–no matter their difficulty–as if I’ve scoured the depths of hell to find this Nat Geo book about bugs to torture him with, even though I let him choose what to read. Always. He purposefully shifts his voice to something more nasally and whiny and grasps his throat with one hand.
“Daddy, my throat hurts,” he’ll say. “It’s too hard.”
I think three things at once:
- You’re full of shit.
- You’ve said the word “creepy-crawly” about a hundred times earlier today when you ran from your room to escape a house centipede and now you’re sounding it out, essentially saying it perfectly, but looking at me with sad puppy eyes welled up with tears as if I’m torturing you because it’s “too hard.”
- If you would stop being such an asshole about this whole thing neither one of us would be “hungry” because we’d be done reading for the day and I could make dinner.
What really gets me though is that a day earlier he’d breezed through the same passage like it was beneath him. Too easy. The mental laziness raises my temperature. Sometimes, just to be sure I’m not being too harsh I’ll fuck his head up and say “hey Jojo, we can have fish sticks and cheeseburgers for dinner if you read x” or “do these math problems” or whatever. And of course he hops to it like baby Einstein. As if he hadn’t previously decided to sob into the carpet doing pushups instead of spending just a half hour learning, using his brain, thinking critically.
But what can I really say? I was exactly that kid for a long ass time, though I often use the excuse that our life circumstances can’t be compared. I’d avoided intellectual labor as a kid because it would only get me picked on more. There was no one in my household interested in learning or with anything to teach outside of drug abuse and making Chi chis. No books, no arithmetic, shit, no one even bothered to explain the foundations of personal hygiene until I got one of those little packets with a toothbrush and toothpaste from school. I had different shit to worry about and so I’m constantly side eyeing Jojo thinking, this motherfucker…
But I feel the same way with college students half the time. A student will come into the writing center for help writing a paper on some topic that’s been studied heavily for say, twenty years and want to brainstorm a thesis. That often implies they want me to give them a good thesis statement because they haven’t read any of the literature for their proposed paper. I ask when the ten page, thesis driven essay using a minimum of three peer reviewed sources (not very many) is due and they say in two days.
I think three things at once:
- Why the fuck haven’t you read anything at all. Anything.
- Why, since you haven’t read anything, would you choose said topic that you don’t seem to be interested in?
- What makes you think that this is a respectable way to demonstrate your responsibility to learn as an informed citizen, but more so as a college student who is paying, or whose parents are paying nearly a hundred thousand dollars for a private education?
They always seem proud too. The talk usually begins with the student expounding on their chosen topic with the confidence of some famous academic, but none of the knowledge–every word or phrase used improperly, every assumption long since studied and debunked, every theory wrongfully attributed and deeply misunderstood. Which, to be clear would be okay for someone struggling with the material, putting in work and seeking help. Not so much though for someone who, when presented with the appropriate corrections/sources and directions/ideas for further readings brushes over it and repeats the jabberwocky they’ve said before simply because they “feel” like it’s correct. It’s “my truth” they often say.
It certainly is, I think. People are trained by our staunchly anti-intellectual populus to avoid all manner of discomfort by doing and saying whatever the fuck they “feel” is correct no matter how chocked full of bullshit it is. No matter how little effort they’ve put into preparation. No matter what platform or in what manner the discussion takes place. No matter how often they’ve run away from facts, friends, statistics, reality, circumstances or professional educators that contradict said “truth.” Being wilfully ignorant is encouraged, and it’s rude to contradict even the most wild claims (flat earthers, anti-vaccers, etc. Listing too many would hurt feelings) because it means not respecting another’s opinion or truth.
Liberals champion this kid’s gloves approach to equality of opinions but can’t see the cognitive dissonance, the way it degrades discourse and the circulation of important knowledge altogether. I re-read George Saunders’ essay “The Braindead Megaphone” the other day and the whole time I thought, this is how we got here. This is how we give credence to racist, misogynist, dumb and outright false claims repeated over and over again through that damn megaphone. No one is aloud to call it what it is. Attacking the growing scourge of stupidity and bigoted rhetoric is to be a meanie yourself. Give them equal time. Let them have a voice. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. All opinions are equal. We need unity now more than ever.
Makes me sick. Motherfuckers act like we’re talking about who prefers coffee to tea. The minute an opinion threatens, dehumanizes and infringes upon the civil liberties of half the population it ceases to be an appropriate opinion. But I’m being divisive now. We need unity. I would turn the other cheek but many of us ain’t got no more fucking cheeks to turn.
All that is to say the college kid won’t read a damn thing and will be praised for his paper, receive a B+ at worst. I’ll keep frustrating the hell out of myself and my kid by trying to make him learn, which will contradict everything else the world tells him is important. Our political leaders will continue to be more loudly, proudly idiotic and false and the violent tide of anti-intellectualism will wash away everything I care about leaving dried out brains on dirty beaches for what I now hope is the sooner rather than later zombie apocalypse the kids are always going on about.