Many years ago, I was a student that had a very difficult time in school; not because I wasn’t good academically but because it made me so sick that the entire system was skewered in a particular way that was mass brainwashing children to induce fear in them and to maintain the status quo in the destructive and damaging world we live in. There is a difference between agression and fearlessness; aggression and violence is a form of fear.
During my primary school days, my friends often envied me because I did well in exams without effort and I tried to console them by saying, “It’s because the whole school system is prepared by a particular system that only acknowledges a particular kind of intelligence. You’re all good and smart people in your own way, don’t let school tell you otherwise.” This was circa 1980s, and I was trying to articulate the theory of Multiple Intelligences but my friends thought I was making fun of them for being who they were. The analogy I used most often was, “Look, if Housekeeping, Agriculture and Cooking were used as benchmarks to do well in school and in life, I would drop to the bottom of the poverty line in real life.”
They thought I was making fun of their mothers or rural folk like farmers and fishermen. I was merely trying to illustrate that a false idea of what intelligence is allows our esteem to be manipulated by the prevailing notion driving current economy. They thought I was a show-off, and that I just didn’t want to let them in on some ‘secret of learning’. I remember this classmate I had, she lived at Phee Choon road, not far from where I grew up in Kinta Lane. Her parents asked me to spend afternoons in their rented room sometimes, so I could help her to excel, the way I was. Since we took the same trishaw together, I sometimes get off at her house, spend afternoons there and then walk home in the evenings. Her father was an odd-job labourer, her mother a housewife. I was fascinated by the idea that they could convert a balcony into an open-air kitchen and that 4 different families can live together in one pre-war house.
Her parents asked me a lot of questions about my parents, my family, what I eat, my early childhood, what happens in my house, what I do during free time, etc. Upon retrospect, it seemed that the invitation to spend afternoons at their room was a scientific approach to figure out “How this girl can do so well in school.” After a few months and not being able to ‘get’ anything out of me, I was dropped from this girl’s “friend list”.; she was no longer allowed to talk to me in school because I was a “bad influence”.
During that time, I tried to explain to her parents that academic excellence is an illussion; the secret of doing well in life is to know who you are and to understand the rules in place that keep people poor and unthinking. It still pains me today, to think of the many rejections I had to face as a child. Just because people didn’t understand what they cannot see, they call you a liar for saying it’s there. I suppose now you can understand why I was rejected by most children’s parents as a “bad influence”. I learned very early in life that telling people the truth pisses people off and that I have to be willing to lose friends if I’m ever going to be true to myself. The only way people will ever listen is if I became rich and famous; then suddenly, my ‘lies’ become ‘nuggets of wisdom’. I was often embarassed when people find out my father was a high ranking Bank officer – they thought that must somehow have something to do with my test scores. I wished I could tell everyone the truth : “My dad is so miserable. My dad is such a failure in life that I had to grow up apart from him and my brothers and my mother because my dad’s inability to reconcile his intellectual, spiritual, moral and career life affects his judgments when it comes to his relationship with my mother – and me. Making more money did not get my dad out of the prison everyone else was finding themselves in.
This was how school was like for me : I broke rules that were put in place to repress and went out of my way to defend rules that were meant to preserve harmony. I got into trouble for that. I went up against authority : You want my respect, first show me some first. When they ran out of ways to scare me, they tried rewarding me. What did I learn in life? That if you’re radical enough, you always get your way. Politicians parlay this tactic well. I took the carrots they sometimes dangle in front of me, which made it seem unfair to others that they work hard, obey the rules but it’s the people like me who get the carrots. My ‘carrots’ included : being allowed to sleep in sickbay just because I didn’t feel like being in class, eating in class, being nominated for sports captain, class monitor, librarian, prefect, etc. I even had a teacher that said to my classmates, “Do not disturb a sleeping beast.”
Honestly, I hated the fact that there were double-standards. I don’t think there should be 2 sets of rules : One for those you can bully, and another for those you can’t. I guess that’s why we still need ISA; because there are some people who are born with a psychological mindset that cannot be easily broken. A less morally conscious person would’ve been gratified to find that ‘Crime does pay’. However, I don’t like people giving me things just to show me who I have to be grateful to. I’m not a dog, I don’t have a Master. I developed a line of thinking back then, that the most dangerous people are the ones you cannot predict what incentives make them tick and what punishments can put fear in them. From then on, trying to figure out what makes people tick became a fascination with me.
Morality means different things to different people. I also learned that if you’re never desperate or afraid, you ALWAYS win the war even if you lose the battles. I tried so hard explaining to my friends that the only way to beat the system is to not do what it is asking you to. I quoted Buddha and said that we must only do something if we think it is rational. I said OBEDIENCE is bad because it weakens our sense of free-will. We shouldn’t obey our parents or teachers; we should respect all living beings. If we learn to respect Life, appreciating our parents and teachers becomes a natural extension of Love and Learning. There is no need for ‘Obedience’, we live in a democracy, neither in a Communist nor still ruled by the Catholic Church.
I had said that CONFORMITY ‘sucks’ because we would lose the sense of who we are, why we came to this Earth. We can just imagine how much MORE trouble I got into. I eventually got labelled, “Fearless”. In Hokkien, the equivalent is “Beng”. I was made to feel like being Fearless is a morally bad thing. – Peer-pressure was being levelled on me to ‘medicate’ my ‘rebellion’. I told them that it is not I who is being a rebel but them who are being infidels! Non-believers! Since I didn’t even believe in competition nor could ever be shamed into conformity, that didn’t really have a real effect on me, but it did cause me severe emotional damage, that the same people I’m trying to save are the ones ostracizing me.
I think there came a point where my ideas started sounding so radical that people started calling me, “Siao”. I believed I developed a wildness in my nature; that’s what you get for caging and tormenting a perfectly normal creature of God! At around the same time I was thrashing around inside the school system, a philosopher called Jiddu Krishnamurthi was telling people that schools should be about cultivating the Intelligence of the Soul and not aboug competition, exams, and constant fear-mongering about ‘the future’. Howard Gardner would soon publish his Theory of Multiple Intelligences. John Taylor Gatto, a New York State Teacher of the Year, quit the teaching profession and in 1991, in an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, said, “I can’t teach this way any longer. If you hear of a job where I don’t have to hurt kids to make a living, let me know.” He told Robert T. Kiyosaki recently, “The school system was not designed to teach children to think for themselves. Nor was it developed to just support the present-day notion that we can all be free.” Robert T. Kiyosaki, famed author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, criticizes the school system repeatedly and calls it a conspiracy of keeping people poor.
Well, most of you realized that, like a rift in the Time-Space continuum, I found myself BACK IN SCHOOL after I travelled the entire length of my protracted adolescence. Right after I started healing from the damages that school inflicted on my soul, I found myself back in the system; this time as a school teacher. About a year into the job,(circa 2006) I told my friend, an academic, that I suspect there is a conspiracy in the entire schooling system to keep the people poor; different conductors, different instruments, different orchestra – same tune. Well, in spite of the fact that she said I’m just being one of those conspiracy theorists, I held on to that belief and I hope, like Kiyosaki and Gatto, I would soon be able to demonstrate why I believe this is so.
The reason why I’m sharing all this with you today is because I’ve stopped denying the fact that I am the same girl that had so much trouble during school being who I was sent to Earth to be. I don’t want to feel ashamed anymore for who I was, because, as more and more research shows, I am not wrong. School, and the society it has produced, punishes people who come to this world with a more perfect vision of how learning and society should be. I have not yet met a single person I have known from my childhood, who excelled in school and is right now, excelling in life. Most of my friends are either broke, unemployed or worrried about their financial security or worried about their children’s future should they be able to make it through these next few decades. Almost everyone has played into the trappings of Life school has prepared them for.
They do not have a fulfilling, happy life where they are both financially free and DOING EXACTLY WHAT THEY LOVE. Some people I know who are my father’s age are having the same problems my father had : Not being able to retire financially free and doing all the things they had wanted to do with their life.
“The degree of which a person does not understand and disagrees that the Invisible creates the Visible things in our world is the degree to which they are suffering in life.” – T.Harv Ecker. When I apply this to what I was trying to tell my friends, that there are different types of intelligences, and one has to discover what one’s gifts are and apply them to the benefit of the world, I see now that most people suffer so much trying to be who they are not meant to be. Everyone is settling for mediocrity. After they settle for mediocrity, they start making excuses for their lives : “I can’t afford it”, “It’s the government’s fault”, “Life’s like that”, “I’m not like you.”
What do all these sentences have in common? It’s about feeling of disempowerment, isn’t it?