This past December the English poet-rapper Suli Breaks released a video titled “Why I hate school but love education.” Since it aired not long ago, the video has received over two million hits and has certainly inspired many frustrated students with regards to the intense education debate going on in the U.S., a debate which sadly leaves out the voice of those who are still pursuing their education. Breaks’s video is the response of a frustrated generation of students to an unfortunate state of things: an expensive undergraduate degree does not insure employment after college, and seemingly only a postgraduate degree will be necessary to make the undergraduate one worth the time and fortune.
Breaks’ video is in the same style as the much bigger YouTube phenomenon, “Why I hate religion but love Jesus.” A young man decries the apparently corrupt and backwards institution of religion that suppresses and chokes off the brave message of Christ, in the same way that the outdated institution of “school” stamps out the ideal of education.
Though few doubt the message that colleges and universities are following an outdated model that cannot be sustained except with generous donations and charging vast tuition rates, Breaks’ video is itself evidence of the everlasting necessity of school. As we will examine further, it’s important that we not throw out the baby with the bath water, as Breaks thinks we should do.
The poem/rap lists individuals like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, and Mark Zuckerberg as individuals who attained success but never graduated from a higher learning institution, listing the net worth of each person. As Breaks rightly points out, money is “only the means by which we measure worldly success,” which leads him to the point that we do not need school to work for charity either. There you have your two options: you are doing it for the money or you are working for charity. Breaks has ruled out the possibility that someone could work in the private sector and benefit society.
The video goes on, “But are you aware that examiners have a checklist? And if your answer is something outside of the box, the automatic response is a cross, and then they claim that school expands your horizons and your visions.” Breaks is not wrong in suggesting that teachers can often be unfair, treating questions which could have many answers as having one specific one, trying to turn opinion into fact. However school does necessarily include a lot of absorbing of theories, events and formulas, and it is important to recognize that when a professor says “no” it’s often in service of a far greater “yes.” A good teacher will correct a student dozens if not hundreds of times. This is not to discourage him/her or crush their imagination, but to aid their mastery of the subject.
The video includes a quote from the Bible, Proverbs 17:16, “It does not a fool no good to spend money on an education, because he has no common sense.” Suli Breaks follows this up with “George Bush, need I say more?” Yes Suli! You need say more because that’s what we do in school; we back up our claims and arguments with truth. Here we see the contradiction in the video: we can fairly protest a school that treats opinions as facts, something which our own Bates has been guilty of at times, but we cannot fall into the same pattern ourselves because we were asleep when our teachers asked that we defend our opinions with the knowledge we gained, you guessed it, in school.
Perhaps the highlight of the video is when the poet recounts a memorable moment when he watched David Beckham kick a ball into a goal over a great distance. “I watched as the goal keeper froze, as if reciting to himself the laws of physics, as if his brain was negotiating with his eyes,” and “then reacting only a fraction of a millisecond too late.” Are we really going to blame knowledge of the laws of physics for the missed block? Could it actually be a bad thing to know science because it does not fit the functions of our job? Yes, being a great athlete is another way to be educated, but claiming that having to know the laws of physics is oppressive is another way to be idiotic.
One thing I learned in school is that “education” comes from the Latin “educere” which literally means to “lead out.” The question then is who does the leading? If we don’t need the chore of school to receive the good of education, then are we as students really capable of leading ourselves out of ignorance and into intellect? School is and always should be the meeting point of the learned and the learning, and only from this meeting is education then produced.
I have heard many propose that things like literature, history, languages, philosophy, and liberal arts in general are things that you can learn at home on the Internet or in a book (we can only hope it’s a book). However, without wise teachers who can guide us toward the right books and websites, our learning will not reflect mastery but our own uneducated desires for cheap, noisy, and ill-informed material that can hold our shrinking attention spans (like YouTube videos, for example). As students, we need extraordinary individuals who can not only place great demands on our intellects, but also fill us with the desire to meet those demands. Those individuals tend to be found in schools.