LOL so this liberal arts distin actually works eh?

If you know Akotowaa, like know me proper, it is no surprise that my anti-formal-education stance has been a huge part of my life and informed my worldview for literally years. I have been tired of formal education and its restrictions for a long time. I have watched several videos, including Prince EA’s spoken word poem, Suli Breaks’ spoken word problem, and Ken Robinson’s TED talk. I have written on it several times, including in my novella, Puppets. I spent a lot of my first semester of high school frickin’ interviewing teachers like I was doing actual research on what made formal education (not) work. A lot of this has largely been fueled by my own wars between self (artist) and society (that wants me to be “practical”).  And so I would say that I came into my liberal arts college with an already fairly liberal-arts-educationist mindset. But not everyone is like me. As obvious a fact of life as this is, it can sometimes be quite shocking to have it flung in your face and brought into active consciousness.

For my academic year, there had been 3 Ghanaians from Ghana that got into my college, of which I had been one. The other two were guys; we were all from different schools and didn’t know each other prior to acceptance. One of these guys took the initiative to ardently use all his resources, especially Facebook, to firstly discover who we were, and then organize a single meet-up during the summer so that college in the US would not be the first time we were meeting each other.

I often go off the first vibes I get from people, so I know who not to waste my time with if we can’t click. The boy who orchestrated the meet-up was fine; I knew we could be cool with each other kraa. And I was right because we pretty much have been from then on. The other one, though, I had a problem with. I had barely known him for more than 20 minutes before he began to tire me.

It is difficult for me to pinpoint tangible reasons to account for what I’m usually satisfied enough to pass off as “vibes”, but I suppose for the sake of lexical communication, I have to try. His education had influenced his mental frame to make it the exact opposite of my own conscious mental frame at the time. Note that education is both formal (he had gone to government schools, and I to private/international) and informal (he had been raised in some sort of conventional Ghanaian societal mindset, whereas I had been raised in an environment that at least had enough cracks in conventional culture for me to break out and stand on the outside).

He was the kind of person who would ascribe to the satirical (because it’s too painfully real to be considered purely humorous) joke that an [African] individual has 4 career options: Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer or Disgrace to Family. He was the type of person who would react with (un)conscious disdain or perhaps mere bafflement that I was considering majoring in something like English. (And true as heck, he did; I could see it in his expression when I mentioned it) He was the type of person to hold Ivy Leagues in the highest esteem like getting into one was a sure sign of undebatable brilliance. (I, on the other hand, am so ridiculously tired of even the idea of Ivy Leagues.) As a matter of fact, he had even been accepted into one, and I don’t think he mentioned that fewer than twice. He was the kind of person I simply would not have patience for even if I tried, and so the best way to maintain a healthy relationship between us was to limit our direct communication as much as possible – which I think I managed to do all of last semester, so yay. [I would describe other factors that led me to strengthen my resolve to limit interaction, but that would be both mean and revealing of much more than is necessary for the sake of this post.]

A few weeks ago, however, at the beginning of this second semester of our first year in college, I had a conversation with him which I kind of never expected to have with him – or anyone, for that matter, since I have so little faith in the effectiveness of school. The conversation struck up when I joined him for breakfast in a nearly-empty dining hall. (Why did I sit with someone I had been actively avoiding? I was in a good enough mood to decide that I could control my ugly superciliousness, I guess), and the conversation continued until we broke off near the dorms to our respective destinations.

He was telling me how, this semester, he was taking an Introduction to Psychology class, and was further interested in taking a sociology class, because it seemed like the material within these courses was relevant and fascinating. For such a STEM-oriented mind, these were huge things to admit, both to oneself and to another person. I didn’t realize in the moment how impacted he must have been during our past 5 months in America to say these things. To me, it was just like Well yeah, the study of minds and cultures is relevant to whomever it’s relevant to – why are you so excited? In fact, I’d already taken an Intro Psych class the previous semester, so already, I couldn’t see what the big deal was.

But this boy, who had lived for 21 years on this earth already, had come into college believing (and he confessed this himself, to me, that morning) that people who studied stuff like the humanities were just wasting their time and education; STEM was where the only important stuff was at. [I just want to clarify something, because I think some people believe that I’m anti-STEM. I am not anti-STEM; that would be idiotic. It is impossible for me not to see the necessity of people in society pursuing science, technology etc. in a 21st-century world. What I am truly against is people who have no affinity for STEM, including myself, being forced or persuaded to pursue academic/professional careers in those areas.] And so this boy was only now reaching an educationally liberal point of view that I’d been at for ages already. Why?

Because he took a class here whose content he probably might not have had access to, had he gone to a college that wasn’t our liberal arts college. What is special about the one we attend is a mandatory seminar class for all first-year students. There are about 30 options to choose from before you actually arrive at the school, and each class has a unique and academically unconventional subject focus. You stick with one for a whole semester and then you’re done. The class this boy chose was entitled “Education and its Discontents”, which sounds vaguely fascinating. I’d actually considered ranking that higher on my preference scale before I decided that I was far too tired of the topic to bother engaging with it especially coming freshly out of high school and needing a break from arguing the same points I’ve been arguing against my opposition for years – and there was sure to be some members of my opposition in the class. Case in point: my STEMmish countryman over here.

Now I obviously can’t go into great detail about what exactly the class covered, seeing how I didn’t take it myself, but from what I gathered, some TED talks were watched, perhaps even that famous Ken Robinson one. The matters of why people became so dissatisfied with the educational system were discussed. Formal education’s credibility and effectiveness were questioned. The history and evolution of the concept of school were explored, including the scholastic visions of ancient philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. And, I am assuming, the value of a holistic education, such as that which liberal arts promises, was emphasized.

But I’m not here to talk about the content of a class I didn’t take. I am just here to express how truly, genuinely astounded I am that a college class could have had such real, fantastic influence on the kind of person it needed to have influence on. Do you know, I never expected school to be this effective at all. There’s a fascinating irony in school having been critically studied in school too, LOL. And even though the class probably didn’t indoctrinate/anti-indoctrinate the entirety of the content I’d have liked it to, it’s still impossible to ignore the fact that it has tangible potential to push people in (what I believe is) the right direction. So…there’s hope?

This doesn’t make me stop hating school though. I’m too stubborn for that. 🙂

-Akotowaa

 

Akotowaa’s Guide to Dropping Out

Unfortunately, I’ve never dropped out before – so my advice on this topic is obviously very credible and 100% legitimate. Listening to “experts on these issues” is overrated anyway.

Yes, there are some who believe although I have never dropped out of school yet, there’s still a chance of it happening. I like these people. Then there are those who will read this and immediately comment or text me to strongly advise me against this option. I could do without these people right now. Just read the freaking blog post, would you? :/

Lots of people think I’m just an impractical anti-educationist. I don’t think that description quite hits the mark, though. Perhaps I am simply not a fan of formal, institutionalized education – or anti-academic. To imply that I hate knowledge, however, is to make an unfair and untrue judgment on what exactly it is that I stand for.

I stand for making the absolute best of oneself in the way that is most fruitful to them. For all, education is the way. For some, formal education is not the way. For others, institutionalized education is where they thrive. Who am I to tell you to abruptly leave a system that works so well for you?
 
So, from a person completely inexperienced with anything but the thought of dropping out, here is Akotowaa’s guide to dropping out.
 
1) When not to drop out.
Do not drop out of you’re lazy. I promise you if you aren’t capable of grinding in school, you’re probably not capable of grinding outside of it. I don’t know, but grinding out of it is probably way harder. Imagine how many times you would have to prove yourself without credentials. Leaving school is not the easy way out, and I will describe why soon.
 
2) Situations where people think you shouldn’t drop out – but they don’t actually matter.
If you’re doing well in school, it still is not a good enough indicator that you should be in school. Sometimes it’s a matter of doing what you have to do – when what you have to do can’t be done in classrooms or whatever. Academic aptitude – especially when you are an autodidact – might actually give you an advantage outside of school. Sometimes it is also a matter of implementing a groundbreaking idea before someone else does. That is in fact the reason why some of the greatest minds have dropped out – because they didn’t have time to waste in school before they patented their designs; before they brought their technology to the world first. It’s not always because they were flopping in school. Brilliance is often a factor for success.
 
When you have no idea what you’re going to do without school, when you have no definite plans and cannot adequately answer people when they ask, with scandalized expressions, “What are you going to do then?!” – that is also not enough reason to stay in school when you know you do not belong there. Here’s why: school can kill your brain and spirit when you can’t handle it. Any suppressive and prolonged situation can do that to you, be it your school, your marriage, your work, your country, whatever. Many times, what people really need is time and space to think. I highly doubt a person who is feeling frustrated and suffocated in a system would be entirely capable of making rational and detailed plans about the next stages of their lives. Sometimes, one may need to drop out in order to be clearheaded enough to know what they want to do after they drop out – even if that decision is to go back to school. It is normal to not know what you need, even as you know exactly what you do not need. It’s not an astronomically absurd idea. Sometimes you may just be doing school wrong; you have to drop out and start again, to figure out how to do school right.

“Other people don’t have the opportunities that you have…” This is one of those nonsense phrases that come in many different forms. Here’s the irony about life, okay? A lot of people need money so that they can afford to go to school. A lot of people need money so that they can be financially stable enough to drop out of school. A lot of people need money so that they can get out of the debt they got in for going to school in the first place. How can you win? Somebody not having something is not automatically equivalent to you needing it. Imagine someone somewhere does not have a Mercedes Benz because they can’t afford it. Does that mean by all means you should buy a Porsche? If in another part of the country, people are starving, it doesn’t mean you must by all means turn yourself into a glutton and continue to eat long after your body has stopped needing the food. They are completely disconnected things. Yes, formal education would drastically improve the life of someone who doesn’t have it. But if you have it and can tell that it isn’t working for you, it is irrational to hold yourself back for the guilt of someone else.
 
3) So when should you drop out?
When you can clearly see that school, or the school you are in, or the program you’re enrolled in, which you can’t easily change – is taking you absolutely nowhere, or not at all where you want to go, or not where you want to go fast enough, you may want to consider dropping out.

When you have a groundbreaking idea you need to implement immediately, before someone else does, patent it, own it, change the world with it first, you might want to consider dropping out.

If you are living in misery, and can barely find any motivation to wake up in the morning and go through the routine of your timetable – if these thoughts occasionally make you wonder what the point of life is, and consider ending it – I think you might need to drop the hell out of school.

If you know how your brain acquires knowledge, and the system you are in isn’t giving it to you in your ideal way – perhaps you would want to consider finding a more fruitful method. Here, let me give an example of my life. I can learn relatively fast if I am being taught one-on-one; when full attention is on me, I give my full attention, easily. Something changes when suddenly it’s not just me being taught – but a whole bunch of people at once – at the same pace, or in the same style, or in the same kind of language. I know that I’m more of an individual learner than one who learns with others, and this has cost me a lot, to keep going to classes for two hours and understanding nothing, only to have someone privately explain the same thing to me, which I understand in twenty minutes. I don’t like wasting my own time simply because it is “required” of me.
 
4) Now that you’ve dropped out, or have decided to drop out, how do you use your time?
This is the part where I explain why dropping out isn’t the easy way out.
When you’ve dropped out, you are going to have to work towards whatever it is you want to achieve – and that involves time. If, to complete your goals, you will need to acquire skills you otherwise could not have learnt in school, you’re either going to have to pay for tuition, or be an autodidact. Just like the way it is in school, you’re not going to just sit there and be achieving stellar things.

People think of dropping out in a way that implies more freedom than I think it actually entails. I think if you’re not spending money on school fees, there is definitely a lot of other stuff you would have to be spending money on instead. And this is something that you and your parents or whoever is in charge of your finances in tuition are going to have to make yourselves understand. And you are going to have to be prepared to spend at least as much time and money as you would have in the classroom, or on assignments, trying to achieve whatever you dropped out to achieve.

For example, if you dropped out of school to focus on becoming a musician, you’re about to invest in voice training lessons, teaching yourself scales and musical instrument, forming connections, paying for studio time, exercising, flexing your songwriting skills, learning improvisation, playing by ear – and you will be buying a lot of things; equipment, instruments, online tutorials. You are not free. Not if you’re serious about whatever you’re trying to do.
 
There should be a whole book on this stuff. There probably already is. But yeah. Though this is not exhaustive, feel free to re-examine your life now. ☺

-Akotowaa

Teachers Don’t Seem to Realise How Destructive They Can Be

At some point, it really stops being the students’ fault.

Note: This is a full-on RANT.

It torments me that I keep writing about the same things, but my goodness, I am so tired of talking! If the only thing that will listen to me is paper (and by extension, my own blog), that’s fine for now. I might even have to start naming my notebooks soon, just for the sake of personification, so I can feel like I’m actually talking to somebody.

It’s almost as if this school is oppressing me so much that I can’t even seem to think about anything else – which is very bad, because it is exactly this kind of myopia that I condemn. I need to think wider. I’m reading, but perhaps I’m not reading intensely enough.

The current cause of frustration: teachers. I wrote this recently:

 

Brilliant students,

Parents bluffing.

Teachers always

Doing nothing.

Stellar grades,

Teachers praised.

 

And I will not retract anything I meant in this poem. I have grown so out of love with the teaching staff that it’s becoming burdensome to even see their faces. My primary internal reaction when I do is “OMG go away!” My secondary one is “Actually, I hate it here – so you stay and I’ll go away.”

I am very much guilty of wishing that absolutely nobody would pick Computer Science as an IB subject, just so that there will suddenly be no need for the CS teachers and then they can leave. It’s never granted, though. People continue to take the subject. The problem is that these students are brilliant – so they continue to pass the subject, with or without effective classroom teaching, although the grades to seem to reflect yearly that there is still much to be desired. (Unless some of the students are actual super-geniuses, which has happened at least once.) But the point is that once students continue to blow (thanks to themselves), the teachers continue to get the praise that is not due them. It nearly drives me mad.

This CS class is one that I dropped after half a semester – not because I couldn’t handle the course, but because I couldn’t handle the teacher and his teaching (and testing). I suggested multiple times before the drop that something had to be done about his teaching style, and it was fruitless. On one test day, I walked in, saw unidentifiable objects on the paper that I was somehow supposed to know how to answer because in some parallel universe elsewhere, he had taught the class and prepared us for this, and I had just happened to find myself in the universe where none of that had actually happened, and so it was entirely my fault that I had no clue what the paper was saying. That was the day that I decided, “Nope. I’m not going to fail school for the sake of another person’s opposite-of-smartness.” I dropped that thing quick like it was kryptonite and I was Superman.

I have an interesting math story. I developed a crazy math-phobia and was terrified to even step inside the classroom. When I did enter, I didn’t understand a thing, and I didn’t care about trying. Math was only a demon that I had to escape from as fast as possible. When I switched to Discrete Maths (which I did partially in order to escape from this teacher), my teacher changed, and suddenly, math was not only bearable, but almost fun. It no longer gave me nightmares, but then the next in line became the worst in the line: French.

I would enter a bad mood at just the prospect of entering the French class (and I am in fact still in this situation). I feel like I haven’t truly learnt anything in a French class for about 2 years. And I don’t hate French itself. My goodness – it’s such a sexy language! It’s the only language I know where even insults sound like beautiful proclamations of amour. But if I like the language…obviously, something else is wrong with my academic French experience.

I do not appreciate having ad hominem attacks being thrown at me and my classmates, much less attacks that target our spiritual lives. Why must a French teacher get up and tell someone that when she reads her Bible, she is “deceiving herself quietly”? =( It’s so difficult to handle being in a class when a teacher irritates the skin off of you. A friend I call Tronomie once messaged me, during a conversation, “Many language teachers aren’t really teachers. They’re just…people. Who happen to speak a particular language very well.” And it’s true. The knowledge and skill in one’s field alone does not qualify a person to be a person who is employed to professionally transfer this knowledge and skill.

Don’t even get me started on TOK. *screams* And all it does is make me sullen and super quiet in class, but I can’t convince myself that having great reports saying, “She contributes in class” for my college applications are worth my freaking sanity.

From my experiences and observations, I have come to the realization that there are teachers who really don’t understand how absolutely destructive they can be. There are too many subjects I have entirely fallen out of love with, not because of the nature of the subject, but because the teachers made me hate them. I want to cry when people’s testimonies for why they don’t like various types of Literature are because of some teachers who killed their interest somewhere in school. And as for the ones who use ad hominem things to affect the students’ marks, those are among the worst.

If you’re a teacher and your aim is not to inspire the children and get them to love learning, you should retire. If you feel like your job exists so students can get marks and graduate, find another job. If you’re in the occupation for the money, you need to retire! If your students don’t like you and/or your teaching style as well as believe that you are basically detrimental to their knowledge acquisition, please re-evaluate yourself. If syllabus guides and mark schemes are your bible, you don’t’ like your subject or your students. And especially if you believe that the mark schemes determine your students’ intelligence, you don’t, and cannot love them; same if you believe the intelligent ones should score highest and the others lower. You need to clean your mind.

I think the very best teachers are the ones who are frustrated with the system, because they are the only ones who will be smart enough to find value in learning over education.

I shudder to think of how many people who aren’t reaching their full potential, or have missed opportunities that would otherwise have been their calling, because of teachers. It doesn’t matter how great your subject is. If you kill students’ minds, you are part of a grave system of destruction.

-Akotowaa

What is he going to teach them?

On Sunday, I was at my great-aunt Agatha’s house with an uncle and the one and only Charles Seth Ofori, the coolest grandpa in the world. I got intrigued about their conversation when Grandpa and Grandma Agatha began to rant about Ghanaian politics and general human behaviour.

Here’s one thing we should note: Grandma Agatha is the absolute strongest nonagenarian I have ever seen. She may be nearing a hundred, but blast you if you believe, for even a second, that she has lost a fraction of her lucidity! One such blasted man, who happens to be the boy who comes to cut her grass, was mentioned somewhere in these rants, and I am going to relay what she said as accurately as my memory will allow.

“This boy who comes to cut my grass…when we give him sachet water, he just [here, she performs a throwing hand gesture with nonchalance] throws it on the floor! And when we give him food, you come and collect the plate, and there are just…toffee, gum wrappers everywhere! You know, this boy recently finished what we call SSS (senior secondary school…although I believe it’s senior HIGH school now) at Aquinas, and now he goes to a teacher’s training college. I don’t understand this education system. I don’t know what they teach the children in school. If this boy becomes a teacher, what is he going to teach the children?”

I, of course, am not going to continue the rant, because, hey, what haven’t you heard before? What I can tell you, however! is that at least ONE very satirical story is going to come out of this, so please, stay tuned. Many other rants have inspired me to think up many other stories, and I’m actually promising to write them all down before any of them escapes me forever. Who knows? I might actually start a short series.

By the way, if anybody has any practical, workable ideas as to how to correct the psyche of the “educated” but common sense-lacking Ghanaian, please let me know, so that the “elite” and co can do more than just sit at home and rant about it. Thanks.

Amen to future satires and mental development!

Cheers,
Ivana Akoto Ofori