Saturday, September 12, 2009

Off the Grid

I have always been fascinated by people who make radically different life decisions than most of us. I think often about people who choose to live "off the grid" for whatever reason. Having grown up with technology playing such a huge part in my life and having been indoctrinated into a western world of consumerist values both through my upbringing and my own psudo-enslavement by consumer credit I simultaneously struggle to understand the choices some people make while also envy them on some level for making such choices. There is a freedom in going off the grid that is hard to deny and there is always a little part of me that thinks I myself am only a thread away from shedding my obligation to uphold cultural values and participate in society in conventional ways.

Our world is full of people who choose to shed conformity to mainstream culture. There are people who are intentionally homeless, there are those who choose to move to the Mesa in New Mexico and live hard but free lives, there are those who leave mainstream culture for religious asceticism such as the Sadus in India, there are the Amish people in the U.S. While the decision to make these life choices for many are influenced by problems such as substance abuse, mental illness, or refuge from the law this is not the case for all people. This leaves me always returning to the same question which I don't have a definitive answer to yet but I know must exist: What is it about our society that produces these counter cultures and why might a person of sound mind and body choose to disconnect?

This also brings up some questions about our education system. If these counter cultures are legitimate and acceptable ways of life in our country do our school systems serve the education needs of these communities? The answer to that question is obviously no. When was the last time you saw an Amish student in a public school? But, our public schools are charged with meeting the needs of all citizens under the age of 21. There is a fundamental problem here. How can this be resolved? What does this mean for No Child Left Behind? Are students who drop out of school because of a clash between the culture our schools are educating students for and the culture they themselves belong to to be considered "Left Behind?" Do we change the definition of "Left Behind," do we change the policy that public schools should serve the needs of all, do we adopt different curriculum and pedagogy that is somehow all inclusive at the expense of calling into question the value of mainstream culture, or do we open separate schools for all? How do I reconcile that what I teach students is inherently charged with both my own biases and the biases native to the system?

Tuesday, Arne Duncan introduced President Obama to our nation's school children by first telling the students to be quiet. Then, Obama began his speech by telling everyone to sit down. (Sit down and shut up). While I enjoyed his speech and felt is was far better than the addresses given by George H. W. Bush or Ronald Regan his message to stay in school and work hard still does scream indoctrination. It was not an indoctrination into the left wing ideology that far right-wingers had worried about preceding this talk. Those fears were quickly placated. Instead, his call to sit down, be quiet, work hard, and stay in school was a call to stay "on the grid." It was an indoctrination into the grid that encompasses both sides of the political debate. A debate that ignores and leaves behind countless people who choose to live "off the grid."

For now I think I will stay "on the grid" but who knows, maybe one day like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Bobby Fisher, William Burroughs, or Henry David Thoreau, I will decide to check out and move to the Mesa.

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