Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Graduation Speeches

                   June is notable for the many graduations that take place, but the graduation speeches do not usually make headline news.  I am linking to three different graduation speeches that I think every high school and university graduate should hear.  One of the speeches was actually delivered, one was written in a book, and one speaker was invited but cancelled.  These speeches may insult some of my readers who are in education.  I do not intend to insult any teacher who is in the teaching profession to help students.  You and I both know that there are both good and bad teachers in our education system.  Good teachers need not feel insulted for they see clearly what is happening in our systems, but any teacher who is there for their own benefits and to use the students needs to wake up and speak truth.

                    The first speech is entitled "The Commencement Speech You Need to Hear" and was written by Neal Boortz, a lawyer and nationally-syndicated radio host.  Boortz was never invited to deliver a commencement speech; this site gives an excerpt from Boortz' book by the same title.  Some few paragraphs out of the speech follow.

                    "You may not like much of what I have to say, and that's fine. This isn't the first time you're not going to like what someone has to say … your bosses, for instance.  Things change today.  There will be a lot less pandering to your every whim, and a lot more demands for performance.  You will remember what I had to say though.  Especially after about 10 years out there in the real world.  This, of course, does not apply to those of you who will seek your careers and your fortunes as government employees … or as college professors….

                    "You are the victims of a terrible fraud.  You have just completed your travels through an educational system that had no real intention of educating you … at least not too much.

                    "You're pretty hot at research right now, aren't you?  While those skills are still with you, perhaps you would like to put them to work studying the start of compulsory government education in the early part of the last century.  Do you really think that the goal of our compulsory government education system has been to actually educate you?

                    "Did you study H. L. Mencken?  In 1924 he wrote an article for the American Mercury where he defined the true aim of our then-fledgling system of education.  Listen carefully:

                    "The aim of public education is not to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. … Nothing could be further from the truth.  The aim … is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.   That is the aim in the United States and that is its aim everywhere else.

                    "Think about this.  Who owns the schools?  The government.  Who mandates attendance?  The government.  Who staffs the schools?  The government …with government workers.  Who directs the work of the schools?  The government.  Can you see where it is in the best interests of government to suppress dissent and originality?  Can you understand why government would want a standardized citizenry?  Those who dissent; those who produce originality of thought; those who exceed the standards are a threat to what?  The status quo, that's what … and government likes the calming influence of the status quo.

                    There is an amazing book that you need to put at the top of your reading list … The book is by John Taylor Gatto, and it's called "The Underground History of American Education."  Gatto was the teacher of the year in New York City.  He wrote an extraordinary letter to the Wall Street Journal in 2001.  Let me share the first part of that letter with you:

                    "I've taught public school for 26 years but I just can't do it anymore.  For years I asked the local school board and superintendent to let me teach a curriculum that doesn't hurt kids, but they had other fish to fry.  So I'm going to quit, I think.
                    "I've come slowly to understand what it is I really teach:  A curriculum of confusion, class position, arbitrary justice, vulgarity, rudeness, disrespect for privacy, indifference to quality, and utter dependence.  I teach how to fit into a world I don't want to live in.

                    "I just can't do it anymore.  I can't train children to wait to be told what to do; I can't train people to drop what they are doing when a bell sounds; I can't persuade children to feel some justice in their class placement when there isn't any, and I can't persuade children to believe teachers have valuable secrets they can acquire by becoming our disciples.  That isn't true.

                    "Just google `I quit, I think' and you can read the rest of Gatto's letter to the Wall Street Journal.  You've been had … big time.  Read the letter.  You'll see how - and how bad.

                    "Can you see why government would want to keep you dumbed down and placated?  Gatto's book explains it all.  He talks about the effort to bring the Prussian style of education to the United States in the early 1990s.  He describes his shock that Americans were too eager to adopt what he calls `one of the very worst aspects of Prussian culture … an educational system deliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens in order to render the populace `manageable.'
                    "So … do you think you know enough to be a threat to the ruling class?"

                    Boortz continued telling the "graduates" how bad their education was, and then he ended his "speech" with the following summary.  "Now, before the dean has me shackled and hauled off, I have a few random thoughts.  You need to register to vote, unless you're part of the moocher class.  If you are living off the efforts of others, please do us the favor of sitting down and shutting up until you are on your own again.  While we're paying the bills you can keep your gripes to yourself.  As long as we're taking care of you we would appreciate it if you would just sit down, shut up and get a skill.  Or have the decency to just stay out of our way so we can get the job done.
                    "When you do vote, your votes for the House and the Senate are more important than your vote for president.  The Houses controls the purse strings, so concentrate your awareness there…..

                    "Don't bow to the temptation to use the government as an instrument of plunder.  If its is wrong for you to take money from someone else who earned it - to take their money by force for your own needs - then it is certainly just as wrong for you to demand that the government step forward and do this dirty work for you.

                    "Don't look in other people's pockets.  You have no business there.  What they earn is theirs.  What you manage to earn is yours.  Keep it that way.  Nobody owes you anything, except to respect your privacy and your rights, and leave you the …. Alone.

                    "Speaking of earning, the revered 40-hour workweek is for losers.  Forty hours should be considered the minimum, not the maximum.  You don't see highly successful people docking out of the office every afternoon at five.  The losers are the ones caught up in that afternoon rush hour.  The winners drive home in the dark.
                    "Free speech is meant to protect unpopular speech.  Popular speech, by definition, needs no protection.

                    "Finally (and aren't you glad to hear that word), as Og Mandino wrote, 1) Proclaim your rarity.  Each of you is a rare and unique human being.  2) Use wisely your power of choice.  3) Go the extra mile … drive home in the dark.  Care as much about America's future as you do about American Idol."

                    Gerald Molen was invited to speak at commencement at a high school in Montana.  He drove ninety miles to the high school only to be told that he could not deliver his speech.  He believes the cancellation took place because he is a conservative.  Molen, as co-producer of Schindler's List with Steven Spielberg and producer of other Hollywood blockbusters as well as a former Marine, is a popular motivational speaker and "not accustomed to being shunned."  When the news got out, the superintendent of the school district announced that the principle would not be working in his district next school year.

                    David McCullough, Jr., son of historian DavidMcCullough, teacher at Wellesley High School and recent commencement speaker at the high school is probably in trouble with some of the people in his community because he dared to tell the truth.  As a parent, I know that parents do not enjoy hearing that our children are any less than the best.  Some of McCullough's comments follow.

                    "You are not special.  You are not exceptional.
                    "Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you … you're nothing special.

                    "Yes, you've been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped.  Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again.  You've been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored.  You've been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie.  Yes, you have.  And, certainly, we've been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs.  Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet.  Why, maybe you've had your picture in the Townsman!  [Editor's upgrade:  Or The Swellesley Report!] And now you've conquered high school … and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, the pride and joy of this fine community, the first to emerge from that magnificent new building….
                    "But do not get the idea you're anything special.  Because you're not….

                    "`But, Dave,' you cry, `Walt Whitman tells me I'm my own version of perfection!  Epictetus tells me I have the spark of Zeus!'  And I don't disagree.  So that makes 6.8 billion examples of perfection, 6.8 billion sparks of Zeus.  You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.  If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless.  In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another - which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality - we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.  We have come to see them as the point - and we're happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that's the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole.  No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it….  Now it's `So what does this get me?'  As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans.  It's an epidemic - and in its way, not even dear old Wellesley High is immune… one of the best of the 37,000 nationwide, Wellesley High School… where good is no longer good enough, where a B is the new C, and the midlevel curriculum is called Advanced College Placement.  And I hope you caught me when I said `one of the best.'  I said `one of the best' so we can feel better about ourselves, so we can bask in a little easy distinction, however vague and unverifiable, and count ourselves among the elite, whoever they might be, and enjoy a perceived leg up on the perceived competition.  But the phrase defies logic.  By definition there can be only one best.  You're it or you're not….."

                    The entire speech is interesting and important for young people to hear as they leave high school and university and move into real life.  Parents and other adults must stop pampering the rising generation and stop rewarding mediocrity; instead, we must prepare them to be the leaders of tomorrow.  I am grateful that some speakers are willing to be truthful!


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