Jaden Smith has an immense amount of privilege. Not only does he have two very rich parents, he is a star in his own right. Because of all of his privilege, much of the conversation I have seen about his tweets were very much dismissive. Many people believe that Jaden is in a position to eschew education because of his class privilege. Some are ashamed to see a Black child so openly espousing a negative view of school, when so many fought for years for the right to get an education. There was after all a time when it was illegal to teach a Black slave to read.
The Smiths have faced a lot of public attacks about how they raise their children and I don't imagine this latest revelation by Jaden is going to help. If we pause for a moment and put Jaden's privilege aside and think about the essence of what he said; he does have a point.
Schools, despite the best efforts of some really good teachers, do not exist to teach kids to think critically. Children are instead forced to learn a very biased curriculum and often times, teachers are forced to simply prepare the kids to take standardized tests. Most schools only focus on teaching the oppressors truth and the voices and experiences of marginalized people are completely erased. It's no wonder that by the time children get to university, where they must think for the first time in their educational lives, so many struggle.
Even more damaging, is their one model fits all approach to learning. People learn in different ways. Some are auditory learners like myself and others are tactile or visual learners. If you don't fit into the model your teacher happens to use, you're shit out of luck. School can be a very frustrating experience for children, if they don't happen to be little cogs.
Jaden's suggestion that people should drop out speaks to the frustration many children experience, especially if they don't have the benefit of things like wealth, white privilege, thin privilege or ability. Instead of instantly dismissing him because of his overwhelming privilege, we should pause and consider what he is saying. He has not only challenged a very insitutionalized education system but parents.
The greatest gift that we can give to children is to teach them how to think. I constantly tell my sons to think because if they don't, someone will be more than happy to do this for them. I spend a lot of time asking the question why, rather than giving them patented answers and I encourage them when they disagree with me, to articulate why as clearly as they can. The end result is that my oldest thinks very critically for his age.
We know that the system is broken but how many parents attempt to augment their children's education? When it comes to history for instance, why are we so comfortable allowing the truth to be rewritten by colonizers? How does it teach marginalized children to feel they can accomplish anything in this world, when they spend eight hours a day learning how great straight, White, rich, able bodied, cisgender males are? Why are we waiting to teach children about systems of oppression and how they both benefit and are victimized? Why are we not teaching them about capitalism and how it is predatory and damaging to many? Some reading this may think that this is a liberal agenda but how can a child learn to think, if they are never taught to challenge the status quo?
Children have an absolute right to challenge the education system because in the end, it's them who are the victims of it. The urge to silence is about adult privilege and the limited understanding of what children are capable of. This is the path of stagnation and it severely limits social progress. None of the innovators, philosophers, or political activists, that we celebrate today, are famous because they were happy with the status quo. Would Martin Luther King had been able to dream about a society without segregation, if he had not learned to think critically about the world and his place in it? If Ghandi had not challenged the idea that British imperialism was the perfect representation of civility, would the world have a true understanding of the strength of non violent protest? Would we even believe in the possibility of challenging western hegemony? Without the work of Audre Lorde, would so many have an understanding of intersectionality, or more specifically how race, sexuality and gender inform someone's place in this world? Without Foucault, would we understand how we are disciplined into conformity from birth? Without the work of Alan Turing during WWII, would we all be saluting a Nazi flag today? These concept, these ideas, changed our world and they were not the ideas of those who internalized the accepted truth, but the beliefs of someone who dared to question, who dared to think, who dared to challenge.
Society needs more than little cogs to fill in the roles of their parents when they die. We are invariably served by people who challenge us to be more than the sum of our parts and who inevitably are a guiding light to human progress. Jaden is right, traditional education is certainly not what it is advertised to be and while I don't encourage children to drop out, I do think that we need to teach them to think critically.