The section on education is especially good:
What kids get taught in school is a complex mix of lies. The most excusable are those told to simplify ideas to make them easy to learn. The problem is, a lot of propaganda gets slipped into the curriculum in the name of simplification.Yes. It's as if when you remove rigor, the vacuum gets filled in with lies.
Public school textbooks represent a compromise between what various powerful groups want kids to be told. The lies are rarely overt. Usually they consist either of omissions or of over-emphasizing certain topics at the expense of others. The view of history we got in elementary school was a crude hagiography, with at least one representative of each powerful group.
As subjects got softer, the lies got more frequent. By the time you got to politics and recent history, what we were taught was pretty much pure propaganda.
Probably the biggest lie told in schools, though, is that the way to succeed is through following "the rules." In fact most such rules are just hacks to manage large groups efficiently.There's actually an upside to this, which is that the people who are smart enough to figure out early that you can get ahead by breaking the rules are exactly the people you want taking liberties with the rules. (Or, just as importantly, knowing how to make the rules work for you.)
He also has one point about suburbia that I think relates tangentially to his previous essay on cities.
The main purpose of suburbia is to provide a protected environment for children to grow up in. And it seems great for 10 year olds. I liked living in suburbia when I was 10. I didn't notice how sterile it was. My whole world was no bigger than a few friends' houses I bicycled to and some woods I ran around in. On a log scale I was midway between crib and globe. A suburban street was just the right size. But as I grew older, suburbia started to feel suffocatingly fake.I know just the feeling he talks about, and had it too when I was 15, as I suspect most people did. Teenagers are largely trapped in a world designed for 10 year olds, but I don't think suburbia has much to do with it. If my parents had decided to move back into the city when I was 13, I think I would have felt the exact same trapped feeling I did when I was living in Bethesda because all the things I like about DC now I didn't care about when I was 15. Bar scene? Off limits to a 15 y/o. Museums? I was uninterested. Art galleries, shows, and other cultural trappings? Uninterested.* I wasn't into the bands that were then making the rounds of The 9:30 club or The Black Cat even if they were to have under-18 shows, so live music was largely irrelevant. Interesting restaurants would have been mostly off the table for financial reasons, so food is irrelevant. I just don't see how a generic urban environment would have improved my suburban teenage malaise. I think there just isn't a lot to do when you're a teenager — no matter where you live — except loiter around public spaces and hang out in your friends' basements.
Life can be pretty good at 10 or 20, but it's often frustrating at 15. This is too big a problem to solve here, but certainly one reason life sucks at 15 is that kids are trapped in a world designed for 10 year olds.
* Can you imagine the 15 year old me suggesting to a friend that we head down to Dupont Circle to see some of Chuck Close's new Jacquard-woven tapestries? I was a pretty geeky 15 year old, but not that geeky.
The more I think about it, the less sure I am about Graham's statement that suburbs exist mainly to provide safe places for children to grow up. I think children are certainly an important cause, but thinking back to my neighbors growing up there were actually very few children around. There must be something at least as important at work. I think there's a platonic ideal of Adulthood that a lot of people have which includes having a single family home with a garage and a lawn and a fence and some nice shrubberies, and you get that by and large in the suburbs, with or without children.