My relationship with education has always been a kind of dissonant harmony. I have always loved learning, yet I have always felt like a rogue in the regimented institutions of homogenization. Today, the dissonance continues as I find myself at times upholding and perpetuating systems of conformity in education, while simultaneously trying to disrupt and subvert those systems in order to shake loose their inhumanities and ultimately help them evolve past obsolete structural paradigms. Reconciliation is slow-going and messy. The pendulum must swing a wide arc before settling in its consonant center.
In my fifth grade class, we had a mock monetary system in which we earned fake dollars for good grades and behavior. The “money” was to be spent at “sales” during which our teacher provided trinkets and candy, etc. that we could purchase. This fake economy — supposedly designed to teach us about the “real” economy — was a regulated, glorified reward system for obedience and the completion of worksheets. I used the fake currency to set up my own black market. I hired some classmates, and we expanded our business to other classes that didn’t even use the currency except in my shadow economy. I got in trouble for this.
That same year, my teacher asked me if she could try to publish a political cartoon about endangered species that I made for a class assignment (“sure,” I told her). Perhaps she wasn’t serious, but it made me consider the possibility that the things I did in school might have merit in the “real world.” The prospect of publishing a cartoon connected my education to the “real world” much more significantly than the fake money did.