Yesterday evening I had a pretty in-depth discussion with Ash about my personal insecurities, which allowed them to surface quite unexpectedly. It overwhelmed me, and actually quite upset me. It made me feel fairly angry at both myself and the system that had developed this rather cancerous conditioning, and continues to do so with children across the Country.
I’ve always placed myself in between two types of mind. On the one hand, there is the creative mind of humanity, that effortlessly sways away from the material World and places an almost spiritual sense of self manifestation through art and poetry and photography and creative writing, above material needs. Sylvia Plath could turn ineffable feelings into beautiful poetry. Diane Arbus could take a photo that ran deeper than it first appeared.
On the other hand, there is the business mind, which seeks profit above all else, so poor that all they own is money, the material mind, which may not in all honesty be driven by what it sees as pure greed or an institutionalised perpetuating inequality, but nonetheless contributes to it every day. I place myself inbetween the two. Always have. I wish I had the creativity to be able to turn feelings into words, or inject my sense of self onto a photo, but I can’t. I wish I could produce a photo that lives on through posterity and everyone sees and says “that’s incredible“. I do not care for the material wealth it may bring, I just wish I could leave my mark creatively and not be simply forgotten when I die.
I have never considered anything I have achieved creatively, as being of any worth whatsoever. It frustrates me to even write about it now. If I take a photo, and people tell me that they like it, I immediately think I must have manipulated them somehow into the assumption that my photos are any good. It must be my fault. I must have forced them to believe what they are seeing is of any worth. If an essay achieves a high mark, I automatically assume that there has been a mistake, or that perhaps my lecturer just likes me because I say hi to him most mornings. I don’t doubt their sincerity. I accept that what they are saying as a compliment, is perhaps true in their eyes, but I automatically assume that I have clouded their vision somehow, and I don’t know how to stop it. This feeling of a lack of creative self worth does not affect me consciously, but subconsciously, I’m discovering, it has quite an enormous affect.
I blame school.
When I was younger, a teenager, I grew up surrounded by friends that I didn’t really have all that much in common with. I made excuses as to why I couldn’t go out with them. I had no desire to spend my days getting stoned and drunk constantly, or talking about fights and graffiti, it just never suited me. I always had a rebellious mind. Those kids who were quite clearly rebelling against their parents, or their school, or any kind of established rules, wanted to stick two fingers up to that establishment. I on the other hand, wanted to rebel against the established rules (as I still do), and also against the kids who in their quest for individuality had inadvertently become simply one big group of sheep. They appeared to have attacked the old “rules” and instead become victim to a new set of rules, aimed at destroying all individuality in much the same way as the old rules did. You got drunk, and stoned simply to fit in. You smashed windows and had fights, simply to impress. You spouted racist bullshit and talked about who you’d shagged, after spraying inane, illegible curse words on any walling you could find, simply to appear the alpha-male, like a group of mindless dogs. It never appealed to me. Drugs, burnt out stolen cars, joy riding, shouting in the streets at 3am, fireworks, fighting. It fucking disgusted me more than anything else. It wasn’t a “lifestyle” choice though. Neither was it teenage rebellion. It was expected. It was social conditioning. Kids were made to believe they were useless, and had no real future. Their parents lived in rented council houses (we rent our house) and lived on the dole, because they themselves came from broken homes and didn’t understand any different. They were called lazy because they weren’t top of the class in Maths. They were told “you should have worked harder in school“. The system then directed funds and investment away from those poorer areas and toward the more attractive areas, with the better schools, and so the cycle continued, from one generation to the next. The system wasn’t blamed by politicians or by businessmen, the people were blamed. They were “useless” and “lazy“. You’re simultaneously taught that ambition is pointless, but if you don’t try hard enough to attempt to obtain that which is unobtainable, you’re lazy.
And whilst it never appealed, it meant that I felt kind of detached, constantly, from the way of life around the area that I lived. I could never understand to the best of my ability, why the kids who were famous on our estates for stealing, or street fighting, or spray painting, or generally being little shits, were the popular kids, whilst the kids who could write music or paint a picture beyond the normal capibility of kids our age, were simply ignored at best and bullied at worst.
A teenage life of drugs and drink and fighting and lack of ambition and lack of knowledge and aimless, soulless “living” frequented the area where I lived, and so inevitably I was always going to fall into that way of life, if I wasn’t careful. So I resisted. And whilst it has meant cutting certain friends out of my life, i’m proud of myself for doing it. For years, I felt I was having to pretend to be something that I just wasn’t. I wasn’t the kind who wanted to fight, and drink constantly, and smash a bus stop to pieces. I suspect, the majority of people I knew felt the same as me, but just felt they had to take the plunge, to “fit in“.
On my old school’s website, it reads:
“Our aim is to ensure that all students reach the highest level of achievement, that all students reach their full potential and succeed.”
I feel this quote is horrendously misleading.
School merely perpetuated the problem. I had written down on my “choices for GCSE courses” application sheet, that I wanted to take History. I have always loved history. They wrote to me to tell me that History was full up, and they had instead put me on a business studies course. What the hell do I want to take a business studies course for? I do not have a mind for business, I’m appalling at maths, and most importantly, it isn’t History. Our school didn’t have the widest of choices for GCSE courses. I have always loved Religion, History, Politics and Philosophy. I studied Maths, English, Religious Education, Science, Business, French and Graphics. I had no interest in any of those subjects other than Religious Education…….. which I got an A in. A diverse curriculum costs too much, and is far too problematic to engage. And so, a limited curriculum where a limited few are appeased whilst the majority are uninterested, is the way we do things in England. We then tell the unhappy majority that they just aren’t good enough. We don’t encourage them to find out what it is that interests them. That would create rebels!
We were placed in a hierarchical system within moments of starting this new school. We were told that these next two years would be the most important of our lives. The pressure was quite immense. Those people who loved Maths were placed in “Top set“. Those of us who enjoyed other subjects other than Maths were placed in “Bottom set” for Maths. The linguistic phrasing of top and bottom is a hard thing for a kid to take. It has an impact. We all associate top with the best, and bottom with the very worst. If you are unlucky enough to be placed in the bottom set, you soon realise what it is to mean for you, over the next two years;
You are, within seconds of starting a new school, not good enough. You’re constantly told that you can expect a D or a C at best, but nothing more. You are shoved in a class with disruptive kids, and teachers who really aren’t that bothered with you. You’re never going to achieve anything, and so you’re almost forgotten. The top set kids mingle with the other top set kids, and the bottom set kids mingle with the other bottom set kids. The system is so fundamentally wrong. Yet, I am positive that if we studied History and Philosophy ahead of Science and French, my teachers would not have made me feel like I was useless and incapable of achieving anything beyond a D grade.
Exams were never about accumulated knowledge, or the ability to theorise, or explain, or expand on theories. Exams were all about what language you had remembered, and what equations you had memorised. You didn’t need to understand, just regurgitate what you had read from a text book. You may aswell have just taken the textbook into the examination with you.
“The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”
We were taught not to question. We were taught that if you failed at Maths or Science or French, that you would fail in life in general. There was nothing beyond the four walls of that very limited scope of subjects. Take everything the teacher said as fact. Don’t bother investigating for yourself. Those of us in Business Studies were force fed economic theory as fact. We weren’t to question, just learn certain business “laws” that were highly subjective and open to a lot of questioning, and just memorise them for exam time. We weren’t to question anything, because that would take up too much time. Just acquiesce to everything we were being told.
The Country was therefore filled, half with people who were amazing at remembering equations for Maths exams and specialised language for Science exams, who would come out of school with top grades, and half with those who did not find Maths or Science the least bit interesting or mentally stimulating, and left with mediocre to crap GCSE results. I was, quite unapologetically nowadays, in the latter. How different would the marketplace and the Country in general look today, if everyone’s interests were catered too? If you were not simply shoved into an education that acted not to educate you in what interested you but simply to create good little workers? The worst thing is, I was told I could not go on to further education to study Philosophy unless I achieved a high enough grade in Maths and Science. I also got a school report from my English teacher when I was fourteen explaining to my parents that I’d never be someone who reads, or understands the significance of literary classics, or writes anything of any worth when it comes to creative writing. Ten years later, I read at least two books a month, I write constantly on here, and my personal bookshelf looks like it’s about to collapse under the weight of my books. I am well read in Roman history, I can tell you about the Presidency of George Washington, I can recite elements of the speeches of Abraham Lincoln at the time of the Douglas debates, I adore reading about the reign of King Edward VI, i’m currently reading a book on the historical importance of Muhammad, and my next book will be The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici. Bukowski enthralls me with his detached sentiment, Plath intrigues me with her unique ability to turn feelings into language, Camus has transformed my World view and Vonnegut stuns me with his masterly grasp of simple prose. In short, “Mrs English” (that was her real name) can go and fuck herself. She genuinely made me believe that when it came to English language and literature, I was utterly useless.
I went back to college when I was 20, and when I was old enough to understand the horrendous hypocrisies and general bullshit spouted by the education system, and the good little workforce it aimed to produce. I had to travel an hour to college and an hour home again every day, because that was the closest college offering courses I enjoyed. I studied for my A-Levels; 16th Century History, Philosophy, Politics, and English Language and Literature. I left college with A,A,A,B.
I myself, would like to be a teacher. I worry that the institutionalised inequality of the teaching service would simply mean I would be keeping alive the inequalities that I hate so much. I do not want to be a teacher who makes children who aren’t too keen on Maths, think that they are useless. I want to be able to tell a child that they don’t have to be good at Maths. I want to tell the child who is obsessed with Photography but has had no chance to study it, that he can throw his Maths homework in the fireplace, and go and take some fucking amazing photos instead. I want to tell the little lad who feels pressured into taking drugs and getting into fights, that having to prove your masculinity to a group of thugs, should be pitied and vocalised with a simply “awww, bless them, the little idiots” more than anything.
When you have spent most of your years being made to believe that you are below average, and will never match up to the clever kids, and never produce anything of any worth, it comes as quite the shock when someone praises your work. I love Photography, I love to write, and I love expanding my knowledge. My school did not educate me, my school held me back. I learnt last night, that subconsciously, I feel utterly worthless. It is an insecurity that is rooted in childhood. I will now work to correct it.