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Ferris the Fraud
We live in a society that glorifies Ferris Beuhler. Granted, I remember pretending to have a sore throat so that I didn’t have to go to school. I was actually lucky, because it seemed that I had a condition on my tonsils that made it look like my throat was always sore. Therefore, when I got the urge to stay home I pulled out the flashlight and opened my mouth for my mom. It worked every time. I remember watching the movie Ferris Beuhler’s Day Off, in which Ferris is the hero for creating an elaborate scheme to avoid going to school. The teachers in the movie drone on, and are portrayed as barely more than tape recorders with low batteries, and all the students consequently hate school. It was funny, and unfortunately too many students in our culture want to be like Ferris, but in actuality, Ferris is a fraud. There are several characters in the literature that show us the power of education, and they show that education goes beyond school. Movies like Ferris Beuhler’s Day Offmay be funny and entertaining, but they lie about what education is all about.
One person that definitely portrays the truth about the power of education is Helen Keller. Keller grew up deaf and blind and lived in a world that was dark both literally and intellectually. At the age of almost seven she was incredibly ignorant because she didn’t have the ability to learn with her handicaps. She says that her existence was like being in a “dense fog . . . it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in.” Then her teacher, Anne Sullivan came to her and gave her the light of learning. She taught her how to learn language, and Keller says it “awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free.” Education gave meaning to Keller’s life, and made it worth living.
Mark Mathabane was also denied education until about the same age as Keller, but for different reasons. In his book Kaffir Boy, he describes how hard it was to get an education as a black boy in the face of apartheid South Africa. Mathabane gives us a glimpse of how important education is in an environment where his mother had to go to great lengths to even be allowed to have him go to school. Mathabane grew up in “an environment where the value of an education was never emphasized; where the first thing a child learned was not how to read and write and spell but how to fight and steal and rebel.” He always thought that going to school was a waste of time, but several experiences changed that. First, a lady in the street saw him trying to run away from having to go to school. She told him about her own son. She said, “he shunned school and, instead, grew up to live by the knife. And the same knife he lived by ended his life. That’s why whenever I see a boy child refuse to go to school, I stop and tell the story of my dear little mbitsini.” Later, after his father beat his mother for taking him to school, he asked his mother why she wanted him to go so badly. She replied, “I want you to have a future, child . . . school is the only means to a future.” Through these experiences, Mark Mathabane realized that there really is more to education than just going to school. As his mother told him, “Education will open doors where none seem to exist.” He realized that an education was what would allow him to become that bird that lifts into the sky, leaving “poverty, hunger, and suffering behind.”
Like Mathabane, Richard Wright also had a difficult time getting a formal education because of his racial background. Nevertheless, Wright did all he could on his own to learn. He got library books on someone else’s card so that he could read H.L. Mencken. When he started reading the book, he realized Mencken “was fighting, fighting with words . . . He was using words as a weapon.” The most important lesson that Wright points out, though, is not that reading was fun, or learning was neat. The lesson he seems to be teaching in Black Boy is that when we apply what we learn, and take education beyond school, then the real power of education is manifest. He says, “Could words be weapons? Then, maybe, perhaps, I could use them as a weapon.” Way too often it seems students learn information for a test, and then as they leave the testing room, all the information leaks out both ears never to be touched again. Richard Wright does just the opposite. He takes what he learns from his reading and tries to apply it. It opens up new worlds to him.
Richard Wright is an excellent example of applying what you learn, and realizing that education goes beyond school. The last example “The Bet” shows in a negative way that there is much more to education than just learning. In this story, two men make a bet in which one agrees to spend the next fifteen years in solitary confinement. If he stays the full fifteen years, the other man must pay him two million dollars. While he was in solitary confinement, he “read the classics,” and many other books. He studied “languages, philosophy, and history.” In four years he read more than 600 volumes. Despite all the learning he did, he hated life and was extremely lonely. He was unable to apply anything that he had learned for the good of others. At the end of the fifteen years he said, “your books have given me wisdom.” Yet, he goes on to say, “I despise your books, I despise wisdom and the blessings of this world.” When put in a situation in which he could learn anything, but not be able to use it for anything, it seems that he became miserable and depressed. Therefore, it shows how important it is to apply what we know, and not just learn things for no other purpose.
From these, and many other examples, we realize how crucial education is to our existence. It opens opportunities, and makes our lives better, especially when we apply what we know. Our culture will still be full of kids with the attitude of Ferris Beuhler, and there will likely be other movies that portray and promulgate that attitude, but the truth is that education is powerful and important. I bet Ferris Beuhler would even have a change in attitude if he had the opportunity to meet Mark Mathabane or Richard Wright.
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