Destroying the Capacity for Independent Thought
As a child, I placed a great premium on quiet-time and time spent alone indulging in my solo interests. Whether the order of the day was creating some new artwork or reading my books, or writing a story or listening to my records, it was something I found necessary for my peace of mind, and for the growth of my intellectual capabilities. After school, I remember running home as fast as I could and bursting into the house, heading straight for my room and all my little tasks that lay before me. It was as much fun planning those activities as it was doing them. I felt a sense of security and comfort, since I knew Mom was there, and therefore, everything was going to be all right. I ran home because I knew it was a place that I wanted to be. Now, kids don't run home to Mom anymore, because they have the latchkey stopover that comes between school and home. The security of Mom may come hours after school is over. During the summer months, for me, it was a whole day of various things to do; things I wanted to do. I never could have survived a moment as a daycare kid.
Can one who grew up like I did even imagine living the chaos of the daycare center life? Gaggles of kids, some screaming and some crying, some fighting and some sick, all letting loose in an atmosphere void of parents, control, or set discipline. Even if there exists a sense of discipline, where can a child get any peace, for instance, to read or write or study, or to develop artistic or musical talents?
There is no peace, for a daycare kid is trapped in a ritual of group games, group projects, and group trips. The activities are planned, as are lunchtime and naptime. Solo time, however, is not planned because it does not exist. A child is forced into this groupthink whether he likes it or not. He has no access to his own "things", his own comforts that he chooses, or his own hobbies. He's there to be babysat and to go along with the rest of the group on its little projects, no matter how uninteresting he may find them. And he is expected to do that for eight, ten, twelve hours a day, every day.
This phenomenon is reinforced by several others. One is the enormous increase in educational work-load, with American publik skools adopting the Japanese approach to scheduling every waking hour with relentless homework and drilling, inculating an attitude of calculating careerism, and churning out obedient drones who'll do whatever they're told--without question--by whatever organization employs them. So let's answer Karen's question with another one--when does the upwardly-mobile, professional-track little resume-builder ever find time for quiet reflection and the pursuit of independent interests, when every evening he comes home with enough homework to last till bedtime? I think it's safe to say that most of today's overachievers don't even know what an independent interest is. After twelve or sixteen (or more) years of seeing every activity and every thing learned as another line on the resume, another gold star granted by an authority figure, of responding to every bit of information with "is this going to be on the test"--how would they even know what they really want to do, for it's own sake?
Finally, if these things aren't enough to destroy the capacity for independent thought, we've got our real-life version of the "handicaps" Kurt Vonnegut envisioned in "Harrison Bergeron." In his egalitarian dystopia, everyone of above-average ability was required to wear a handicap device of some sort. For instance, a person of above-average intelligence would wear a headset that, at random intervals, zapped the wearer or deafened him with a loud noise, so that he was unable to follow any coherent line of thought for five minutes at a time. In the real world, we don't need a handicapper-general; instead, people are lining up to buy their handicaps from Cingular or T-Mobile. Until the dawning of the Age of the Perpetually Wired-in Conversation, around a decade ago, it was while doing menial chores or walking from one place to another that thinking people often got their best thinking done. Now, every other person I see going down the sidewalk is carrying on a conversation. Can anyone born before 1985 even remember what it was like to be alone with your thoughts, without the constant possibility of being jerked by an electronic leash?