Home > News > Living in a Real Teenage Dystopia: The Classroom

Living in a Real Teenage Dystopia: The Classroom

November 12, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Written by Isamu Fukui

In recent years there has been some discussion about the dystopian visions of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley and about which model is more relevant to our society today. This discussion can be boiled down to Orwell fearing that we would become slaves to pain while Huxley proposed that we would become slaves to pleasure. A strong argument can be made for the relevance of Huxley—our society is increasingly driven by distraction and entertainment. A desperate news industry, whose original purpose was to educate and inform, has surrendered any claim to that cause in favor of punditry and ratings. Reality is now largely dictated by appearances.

Yet I believe that the nightmare of Orwell is alive in our time. It lives in our classrooms. I know what it is like to have much of my daily life dominated by an autocratic administration led by an egotistic man who neither respects nor represents those in his care. The story of my high school education is a tale of four years under a principal who saw students as unruly creatures who needed to be controlled as tightly as possible; ostensibly for their own good, but really for his. Each year brought new baffling security measures, new restrictions on where and when you could go, punishments for students suspected of exiting the building through the wrong door because their skin color was dark enough to match a figure on a grainy video. That principal has recently been disgraced and displaced for covering up a massive exam cheating scandal. I regret that that was what it took to remove him.

A couple of years ago I made a return visit to that school at the invitation of an old teacher. On the way out I was physically accosted by staff and detained against my will because I still look young and they feared I might be a student cutting class. My experiences beg the question: On what basis should students placidly accept that their handlers know what is best for them? What recourse do they have against injustice? Whatever accountability that exists comes from the top down, not the bottom up.

At the time it was written, Truancy was not intended to advance an agenda. It was nothing more and nothing less than the extended daydream of a frustrated teenager. But in hindsight I now see the world of Truancy as something uniquely authentic—the classroom dystopia viewed through the eyes of a confused and angry denizen. What if the rules of that classroom dominated an entire society? That is the question I had attempted to address at the tender age of fifteen, and in so doing I may have unconsciously sought to expose the fundamental absurdity of modern education.

For the truth is that I don’t believe that high school encouraged independent thought for me; I think it punished it. It didn’t exalt the democratic process; it paraded around a mockery of it with student council elections. It didn’t promote independence and responsibility; it made the former impossible and limited the latter to slavish obedience. Everything the system claimed to do, it actually worked to undermine.

We need not speculate what a dystopia might look like in the here and now. All we have to do is go back to school.

Don’t miss the third and final book in Isamu Fukui’s dystopian Truancy Trilogy, Truancy City, available now from Tor Teen.

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  1. November 12, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Comparing school to society is a fallacy; as institutions, they are too dissimilar to equate on the same level. This is not to say that school is in any way easier or better than the author described; but that it does not, in any way, equate to a dystopia.

    Students are there to learn that which society deems necessary for them to survive on their own in the REAL WORLD. Students in the U.S. are generally known for resisting this process, but as they also tend to be more likely to survive and even thrive in society in direct proportion to what they learn in school, it is clear that schools generally accomplish their goals, whether the students like it or not. Harsh, it is true… but better than starving.

    A school is not a society, it is a dedicated institution within a society. It has more in common with a factory, in which independence and free will are sacrificed on the factory floor to the requirement to efficiently produce goods, with a reward (money) dependent on good work. A factory can be well or badly managed, and badly managed factories should be fixed, by management improvement or replacement, workers’ advocates and strikes, or community demand or boycott. Schools have many of the same tools for improvement (obviously students can’t “strike,” but they have advocates), and should use them as necessary.

    Many U.S. school systems need serious improvement. But they’re not dystopias. You want to see what a dystopian society looks like? Try running a country with a few generations of people who received no schooling.

    • Ben Pachano
      November 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm

      Actually, you are exhibiting fallacious thinking. Deep systemic racism and classism in U.S. society easily account for the correlation between success in school and later financial success (which is what I assume you mean by “thriv[ing] in society”).

      And I think it’s naive to assume that schools actually teach the skills that “society” thinks students need to know, rather than designing their policies and curricula based on the same factors that underlie other societal decisions — a toxic brew of bureaucracy, political wrangling and battles between competing ideologies, with the edge continually going to those with more wealth and power.

      The author is not saying that school reflects the larger society. He is saying that high schools can be viewed as a mini-society on their own, and one run by dystopic principles.

      I think he’s right.

  2. November 12, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    I can’t read this without wanting to bring up another side of the issue: the ways in which accountability measures can backfire. Some parents, if given the opportunity, can and will complain to the principal, school board, media, etc. every time their child receives a low grade or a detention. Fear of such action by parents can handicap teachers and be disastrous for education.

    This is in no way meant to minimize the difficulties that can be caused by an administration that views students as inmates. I simply want to point out that the issue is complex, and some kinds of measures intended to prevent the problems described in this article could end up creating gigantic problems of their own.

  3. Wolf Baginski
    November 13, 2012 at 6:24 am

    Onw of the hot issues in the IK’s education system is exam grade inflation. With a uniform system of exams, qualifications for future life, whether college or work, that reliability does matter. And, anecdotally I can see how recifying weaknesses in teaching can improve resultsl because I was never really taught some things which were keys to the exam process. How do you write six essays in a three-hour exam, and is that ookie-cutter writing really going to be of use?

    But since exam grades have crept up for decades, it has become too hard to dismiss the idea that standards have shifted. And the sometimes-hidden question is, what are the exam results really for? An exam that started as a qualification for college/university entry may not be so useful for the world of paid work, but two years of extre school reduces the labour pool. I doubt sometimes that the general purpose of the education system is really what the politicians say it is.

    Them that ask no questions isn’t told a lie.
    Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by.

  1. November 12, 2012 at 9:06 am
  2. November 12, 2012 at 9:16 am
  3. November 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm

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