With Mishana Hosseinioun
Yes, Petronius, but where is it buried?
"Education is a treasure (Litterae thesaurum est)
- Petronius, Satyricon, (c. 60 C.E.)
By Mishana Hosseinioun
July 7, 2005
It was the same roman writer who in later pages of his sole extant
manuscript to-date, Satyricon, wrote, I'm sure the reason
such young nitwits are produced in our schools is because they
have no contact with anything of any use in everyday life.
Today, Petronius might turn in his grave knowing that the tables
have not entirely turned since then-at least not in our classrooms.
While lines from his satiric piece could tragically apply as much
to life in the year 2005 as it did back in that of the 60s C.E.,
what will be left to a separate treatise, however, is whether
the nitwits of his days could measure up to ours.
From an archeological standpoint, these alleged nitwits have had
centuries to mature and calcify within our antiquated schooling
systems; a chilling prospect, perhaps, yet it may just be that
they are, in fact, justified in their nitwitdom. What Petronius
phrased more eloquently than any modern day school board member
was that schools inevitably manufacture apathetic individuals
when they fail to provide them with any tools for survival in
the real world.
What such enduring patterns in our culture teach us is that there
is a need for students to learn to build relevance between academics
and their own lives if they are to become well rounded, thriving
citizens of the globe. Ideally, schools-not the streets-are where
survival skills should be taught. The motivational gap that permeates
classrooms can be attributed, in large part, to the lack of tangible
incentives for learning, currently available to students. The
inability on the part of most students to find joy and excitement
in their studies, therefore, cannot simply be written off as an
unfortunate by-product of adolescence. The truth of the matter
is that our youth lie in the dark of the back alleys, learning
the things they should just as easily learn in the safety of the
back row of class, if not, the very front.
Either we think we already know why so many students choose the
streets over their diplomas, or we are not asking the right set
of questions. For instance, is it possible that the streets are
providing the kind of requisite knowledge-street smarts, as it
were-that we, as human beings, naturally seek in our formative
years and beyond? If so, it is clear to see why youth easily gravitate
towards this non-organized brand of education, otherwise unavailable
to them in the classrooms. How `misguided' their choices then
really are, such as spending minimal time studying, or even dropping
out of school, is thus open to debate. Perhaps, this population
of youth, once dubbed delinquents or nitwits by society, might
arguably be a generation more deeply dedicated to the pursuit
of real-life wisdom and intellectual treasure than we will ever
Mishana Hosseinioun is the Program Director of
International Convention on Human Rights (ICHR), a non-profit
dedicated to drafting a legally enforceable international human
rights document. She is a longstanding intern in Mayor Gavin Newsom's
office in San Francisco and a recent graduate of Rhetoric and
Near Eastern Studies from the University of California, Berkeley.
Email Mishana at Mishana@ichr.org
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