The Achievement of Desire Term Paper 4 pages

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American education has been under attack in various respects over the past century. In addition to the fact that education in the United States is still highly associated with class and cultural segregation, the latest critique is that American education tends to create conformist consumers who enter the working world to exacerbate rather than mitigate the economic and environmental problems the world faces. Indeed, school education particularly tends to teach children a uniform set of subjects in a uniform way for a uniform amount of time per day, week and year. The entire system is based upon conformity. In this way, the education system itself works together with the material presented in order to subconsciously and consciously train children the virtues of conformity for success in their future careers.

Writing with a focus on the Board of Education in Massachusetts, Horace Mann addresses the issue of education and its ideals for the community. This early document, written during 1848, demonstrates the seeds of today’s education, particularly in terms of subject matter and premise. Mann for example refers to “Universal Education” in order to empower those from poor communities to enter a more competitive job market through their acquired knowledge. Mann sees this knowledge as the vehicle towards economic independence and well-being. While economic independence is a desirable goal, the assumption is that the only way out of poverty is through formal education.

The conformity proposed for such education becomes clear under the “Moral” and “Religious” education sections of Mann’s document. For these, Mann suggests a Christian basis as the premise for all human morality. Indeed, he equates Christianity with religious morality in general, not acknowledging the existence of any other religions within the United States. Furthermore, he also appears to assume that children attending public schools will be of Christina orientation and would benefit most from being instructed in this way. Such conformity, according to the author, would best equip children for their future as competitors in the economic sector.

It is this conformity that John Taylor Gatto (2003) criticizes most severely in his writing. Whereas Mann appears to believe that conformity is the cornerstone of a peaceful and productive society, Gatto believes that this is a self-destructive tendency, particularly in the light of the current problems society faces. In order to solve these problems most effectively, critical thinking needs to apply; a trait that is strongly discouraged in schools.

According to Gatto, another fallacy promoted by the school system is that the concept of “success” is synonymous with schooling. Indeed, society tends to promote this idea by holding in highest esteem those with the highest college education. This is all part of the “true” purpose of schooling, which, according to the author, is to standardize society into an unoriginal and conformist mass. As such, mass consumerism is promoted and social and environmental problems are compounded to favor the rich rather than the poor that Mann felt compelled to “rescue” through mass education.

Instead of good citizens or people, and instead of helping people to be their best, schools crush what could be the best and most original in each citizen by providing them with a standardized textbook education. There are several examples to substantiate the criticism that schooling does little towards promoting or stimulating critical thinking, or indeed that it makes a significant contribution to education.

A notable example of conformity is Richard Rodriguez. The author is a Mexican-American man who has made a success of his school career, but paid the price of conformity. In order to attain success at school, Rodriguez found himself obliged to separate himself from his family life at home. He became more part of his school community than of his native community. The two could not exist side by side. Specifically, Rodriguez for example learned to speak without his native accent, and to use the same language as his teachers. Furthermore, he became part of the school community by learning to love the work presented to him at school. This process forced a distance between himself and his family from a time when he was very young. While his loss of accent brought himself and his teachers a sense of pride, it brought sorrow to his parents, who saw the change, however gradual, in their child. The author furthermore admits that for children like him, from a non-white American background, the home and school environment are at cultural extremes. This creates conflict that the young Rodriguez handled by conforming to his school environment. In effect he replaced the importance and roles of his parents in his life with those of his teachers, and as such became an academic success.

The author however admits that this is a shameful and lonely type of success. Nonetheless, it is a success that the author has chosen to conform to. Instead of therefore being successful because he has been educated, Rodriguez emphasizes that his success was chosen. He worked towards academic success with great passion, because this is what he wanted. In contrast to the popular belief that success and education are synonymous, the majority of school children, and particularly those from disadvantaged households, tend to be as unsuccessful after schooling as they were before. This is precisely so because they are submitted to a certain expectation in their school environment, and expect to be treated in the same way once they grow up.

Conformity has worked well for Rodriguez, but at a price. His culture was in no way promoted or honored by his school environment, and society expects his parents to be proud. Instead, the author appears to be almost haunted by a sense of betrayal that shames him even while he experiences the lonely accolades of success.

The education of Malcolm X relates to Gatto’s article in quite a different way. Indeed, he serves as an example that education can be self-driven and entirely detached from formal schooling. While society expects him to be educated at the finest institutions, the author in fact began the most important and most voluminous part of his education in prison. It was through being self-driven towards the goal of written communication that the author began to educate himself.

Malcolm X had as his goal clear communication with the intellectuals and politicians of the nation. He could do this only by himself being educated, or at least having the appearance of education. The author was able to do this by targeting books that could teach him what he wanted instead of conforming to a consensual ideal of what should be taught. Through his self-education, Malcolm X was therefore able to change the world around him not only for himself, but for a large oppressed sector of his society. As such, the author is one of the greatest examples of the fact that school education does not make as much difference as critical thinking and self-motivation.

In terms of conformity and motivation, Mike Rose relates his interesting experiences at school, where he was mistakenly placed into the wrong level of class. These classes were taught by ineffective teachers who were allowed into a system that groups students together according to the system’s expectations. Under the premise that increased economic opportunity is provided to children who do less well in school, these children were encouraged to apply themselves even less by expecting the least of them. In this way, their future was effectively doomed.

The American school system is ineffective at best and destructive at worst for all but the most self-motivated and individually resilient among students. This is a crisis that needs attention of the future of humanity is to be secured.


Cremin, Lawrence a. (1957). Horace Mann and the 19th century Education Reform movement.

Gatto, John Taylor. (2003). Against School.

Malcolm X Learning to Read.

Rodriguez, Richard. The Achievement of Desire.

Rose, Mike. “I Just Wanna Be Average.”

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