Monday, March 6, 2017

The Wonder Bread of Education


Driving to school today, I passed a Wonder Bread truck. Really? Do they really still make that? Heck, that was the longed-for product of my 50’s childhood and of course, like all the brainwashed kids of my and succeeding generations, the ads are forever imprinted on my mind: “Builds Strong Bodies 12 Ways.” My mother, way ahead of her time, served us whole wheat bread from the local Dugan’s Bakery, but Wonder Bread was the icon of the times and I did get to experience its soft fluff eating over friends’ houses. Truth be told, I don’t remember pestering my Mom to switch over. Perhaps my body already knew that something was terribly wrong here.  

Consider the logic. First, let’s process the hell out of the natural whole wheat fiber, removing its essential nutrients. Then let’s add back in the vitamins we took out! In a weird artificial form that certainly is not as healthy. But hey, let’s market it as “building strong bodies” because fooling the consumer is as American as apple pie made with processed white flour.

So driving to school, my predictable mind couldn’t resist making the comparison with education. Let’s take the natural state of childhood, it’s quirky, curious, energetic, dynamic, alive, funny and surprising qualities and put it through the mill of school to produce bland, dull, unthinking and numbed to feeling future consumers and compliant citizens (and let’s not forget the replacing of “brown” with “white”), process the hell out of them until they’re soft and fluffy and have no backbone or grit. Then when we realize that they can’t pass a test in 5th grade that their natural counterpart abroad can pass in 2nd grade and have to deal with their behavior because we’ve neglected to raise them with loving care, let’s surround them with tutors and therapists and self-esteem coaches and nervous-system-altering drugs, desperately trying to add back in the essential stuff we took out. Except like Wonder Bread, it actually doesn’t work. But hey, as long as we have our slogans (Builds Strong Minds 12 Ways!) and repeat them often enough, we can pretend all is well.

I happen to believe that the human being in its natural state is a splendid possibility. That children left alone enough to be children, running freely in the fields and poking and prodding the world to find out what it's made of, that children cared for enough by happy adults who clothe, shelter, nurture and feed them well (with whole wheat bread and gluten-free folks, don’t interrupt me here!), have a pretty good chance of growing up with their essential nutrients intact. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that we should get it right the first time because it’s extremely difficult, time-consuming and expensive to put back in in artificial form the bonding and nurturing the kids needed in their first five years.

We’re in a time of cataclysmic change, a time that is asking us to take stock and try to figure out where we went wrong to become so morally bankrupt, ignorant, confused, calloused, cynical, angry and hateful. Not to mention obese, sickly, depressed.

Me, I think it all began with Wonder Bread.


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