Pink Floyd, education, and choice

Lately, when I play the Radiohead pandora station (which I do often), the song “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” always catches my attention. Usually, the station is background noise. I play the Radiohead station because it gets my creative juices flowing. This time, the music moved from the background to the foreground, and Pink Floyd called out. “We don’t need no education,” is the famous phrase, and it doesn’t take too much digging to find the connection between alternative education and Pink Floyd’s message.

Clockworkfloyd (Tumblr)

Alternative education provides a solution to the kind of traditional schooling that Rogers Waters references in this song. The solution isn’t so much the alternative itself, but instead, simply having a choice. There are currently 49,484,181 public school students, and I’m saying they all should have a choice to stay or leave. For many, public school works, making them into interested and interesting adults. For others, school stifles them. Does turning away from school mean they are less intelligent, less competent? No. It means they will have to work diligently to make their individual path, to design their own learning; and it can also mean an enriching journey, one layered with awesome rewards.

I’m not sure Waters had alternative education in mind when he composed “Another Brick,” but I do think the song is a plea for a different educational system.

To me, at least, it seems cruel to not offer the choice, to avoid asking the honest questions. Like, for example, to the parent of an unhappy student who refuses to let go of the dream (of good grades, shiny diplomas, and exemplary schools), I would ask: What are you scared of?

What did Waters mean by “we don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control”? These words are chanted in unison by school aged children. As seen in the video (click the song name), the damage has already been done to these kids. They are already all the same, just copies of each other.  The song’s lyrics combined with the music video suggest that factory-schooling churns out people completely devoid of individuality, but — and this is very important — they are not quite apathetic. These brick-kids (kids that are all alike just like the bricks on a wall) are traumatized. Soon after the video opens, a pale, nervous boy is seen hiding from a wrathful teacher. It is not clear whether these kids still believe in learning (or for that matter, in anything), but what is certain is their distaste for formal education. Get me out of this prison, the song and the video exclaim.

Many children are never offered the opportunity to leave school. Leaving school is a scary taboo. But if staying is a struggle or leaves a student unhappy, then why continue trying if there might be something better?

Rogers Waters tagging up the Berlin Wall (I think this was in 1990, but I can’t seem to find any confirmation on that.)


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