The mind of the High School graduate.

This is a small section from a much larger essay written in 1971 that criticized the modern education system. I thought that the following description was particularly insightful and wanted to get the thoughts of others about it.

Well? Deep, or full of it? :smiley:

The average highschool graduate is a jerky, anxious, incoherent youth with a mind like a scarecrow made of sundry patches that cannot be integrated into any shape. He has no concept of knowledge: he does not know when he knows and when he does not know. His chronic fear is of what he is supposed to know, and his pretentious posturing is intended to hide the fact that he hasn’t the faintest idea. He alternates between oracular pronouncements and blankly evasive silence. He assumes the pose of an authority on the latest, journalistic issues in politics (part of his “class projects”) and recites the canned bromides of third-rate editorials as if they were his original discoveries. He does not know how to read or write or consult a dictionary. He is sly and “wise”; he has the cynicism of a decadent adult, and the credulity of a child. He is loud, aggressive, belligerent. His main concern is to prove that he is afraid of nothing because he is scared to death of everything.

His mind is in a state of whirling confusion. He has never learned to conceptualize, i.e., to identify, to organize, to integrate the content of his mind. In school and out, he has observed and experienced (or, more precisely, been exposed to) many things, and he cannot tell their meaning or import, he does not know what to make of them, sensing dimly that he should make something somehow. He does not know where to begin; he feels chronically behind himself, unable to catch up with his own mental contents if the task of untangling it were far beyond his capacity.

Since he was prevented from conceptualizing his cognitive material step by step, as he acquired it, the accumulation of unidentified experiences and perceptual impressions is now such that he feels paralyzed. When he tries to think, his mind runs into a blank wall every few steps; his mental processes seem to dissolve in a labyrinth of question marks and blind alleys. His subconscious, like an unattended basement, is cluttered with the irrelevant, the accidental, the misunderstood, the ungrasped, the undefined, the not fully remembered; it does not respond to his mental efforts. He gives up.

The secret of his psychoepistemology which baffles those who deal with him lies in the fact that, as an adult, he has to use concepts, but he uses concepts by a child’s perceptual method. He uses them as concretes, as the immediately given without context, definitions, integration’s or specific referents; his only context is the immediate moment. To what, then, do his concepts refer? To a foggy mixture of partial knowledge, memorized responses, habitual associations, his audience’s reactions and his own feelings, which represent the content of his mind at that particular moment. On the next day or occasion, the same concepts will refer to different things, according to the changes in his mood and in the immediate circumstances.

He seems able to understand a discussion or a rational argument, sometimes even on an abstract, theoretical level. He is able to participate, to agree or disagree after what appears to be a critical examination of the issue. But the next time one meets him, the conclusions he reached are gone from his mind, as if the discussion had never occurred even though he remembers it: he re-members the event, i.e., a discussion, not its intellectual content.

It is beside the point to accuse him of hypocrisy or lying (though some part of both is necessarily involved). His problem is much worse than that: he was sincere, he meant what he said in and for that moment. But it ended with that moment. Nothing happens in his mind to an idea he accepts or rejects; there is no processing, no integration, no application to himself, his actions or his concerns; he is unable to use it or even to retain it. Ideas, i.e., abstractions, have no reality to him; abstractions involve the past and the future, as well as the present; nothing is fully real to him except the present. Concepts, in his mind, become percepts - percepts of people uttering sounds; and percepts end when the stimuli vanish. When he uses words, his mental operations are closer to those of a parrot than of a human being. In the strict sense of the word, he has not learned to speak.

But there is one constant in his mental flux. The subconscious is an integrating mechanism; when left without conscious control, it goes on integrating on its own-and, like an automatic blender, his subconscious squeezes its clutter of trash to produce a single basic emotion: fear.

He is not equipped to earn a living in a primitive village, but he finds himself in the midst of the brilliant complexity of an industrial, technological civilization, which he cannot begin to understand. He senses that something is demanded of him-by his parents, by his friends, by people at large, and, since he is a liv-ing organism, by his own restless energy-something he is unable to deliver.

He has been trained to react, not to act; to respond, not to ini-tiate; to pursue pleasure, not purpose. He is a playboy without money, taste or the capacity of enjoyment. He is guided by his feelings -he has nothing else. And his feelings are only various shades of panic.

He cannot turn for help to his parents. In most cases, they are unable and/or unwilling to understand him; he distrusts them and he is too inarticulate to explain anything. What he needs is rational guidance; what they offer him is their own brand of irrationality. If they are old- fashioned, they tell him that he is too self-indulgent and it’s about time he came down to earth and assumed some responsibility; for moral guidance, they say, he ought to go to church. If they are modern, they tell him that he takes himself too seriously and ought to have more fun; for moral guidance, they tell him that nobody is ever fully right or fully wrong, and take him to a cocktail party raising funds for some liberal cause.

His parents are the products of the same educational system, but at an earlier stage (note: this was written over 30 years ago), at a time when the school conditioning was furtively indirect, and rational influences still existed in the culture -which permitted them to get away with discarding intellectual concerns and playing the fashionable game of undercutting reason, while believing that somebody else would always be there to provide them with a civilized world.

Well, it was written well. The style was fine. The content, though, I find kind of offensive (as I’ll be graduating High School in less than two months). It tended to overgeneralize…does this guy know every high school graduate? Of course, he might just be talking about guys, in which case I take back my offense. :slight_smile:

Anyways, I personally don’t think this applies to moi- I may be arrogant and full of myself at times, but I’m definitely not wise, in quotations.

Sounds more like an analysis of most politicians.

I’m over 30, and even I thought the essay was full of it. If you tossed in a costume and read it in a weezy old man voice, you could stage it as a skit for SNL.

Dunno about the “average” high school graduate, but it describes my hugely-fucked-up 30-year-old younger brother to a T.

The point of the essay was to criticize “progressive” education. It is not quite fair for me to put in just this section, however. This came after about 30 pages of argument leading up to it, then an additional 20 pages, saving some of the worst attacks for college.

I really thought that it described many kids I knew (and myself) to a T. Perhaps it does not apply as well now that the glorious 80’s squelched most of the evil that was the 60’s and 70’s.

Think about most any young zealot you know, especially of the left wing, and then compare with the description.

Was it by any chance written by Phillip Wylie?

Or Plato?

I vote for “mostly full of it.” After reading the essay several times, I take it the author thinks high school graduates are immature, have trouble with abstract concepts, and tend to adopt other people’s ideas uncritically instead of thinking things through for themselves. Dunno why he needed all those words to say this much, but his observations are generally accurate. However, I doubt very much that the “progressive educational system” is to blame, or even that anything is wrong with this state of affairs. Eighteen-year-olds are eighteen, and even if we could develop an educational system that would make them think like much older people, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

I’m another vote for “pretty much full of it.”

That doesn’t describe most of the people I know as this year’s high school graduating class OR college freshmen. Of course, some of us are quite immature, but I know just as many adults who act foolishly. As a whole, the wide group of young people I know are more tolerant and more accepting that their parents in general, and therefore are more open to new ideas, abstract or concrete.

Sounds a lot like me–both at that age and, to a fair degree, even now.

Of course, it’s been thirty years, but I don’t know how common such a person actually is, or was then. From my experience (late '80’s), it seems a lot of kids just snooze through high school anyway. Or they’re more concerned with non-academic matters (which, if the author is right, their minds can handle better anyway). So they may not develop the sort of pseudo-intelligent conditioned verbal responses that characterize this, um, caricature.
Besides which, the defining thing here seems to be the youth’s fear of things generally. While I have such anxiety myself, I think many people don’t. In fact, a lot of people don’t, probably because they developed in a more well-rounded way. If there is a point behind all this, it’s that the sort of “intellectual” education you often get from schools is not nearly as important as your, for lack of a better term, social grounding. In my case, no effort on the part of a professional educator could get through my walls & counteract the pernicious influence of my negligent & mad parents.

Yuck. I say full of it.

I am ardently opposed to anyone doing this crap–writing completely general peices about certain groups of people about whom they, of course, know everything.


Ah. That explains it. :rolleyes: