School Survival

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Trapped Flea Syndrome

How to break fleas (and people) down so that they won't try to escape even if they can.

Inspired by a story told by John Taylor Gatto at the SepCon conference, Iíve expanded his story/theory.

He talked about Andrew Shu, a 12-year-old home schooler in Washington state who won a science fair (not a middle school one either, one for adults and youth) with his presentation of the trapped flea phenomena. Apparently if you put fleas in a covered dish they will jump up and bump their head, and continue doing so until they finally learn the lesson and stop jumping. At that point you can uncover the dish and the fleas still wonít jump out of the dish. They have been broken.

Gatto used it to describe kids in school, however I think it applies to the entire condition of being young in America, and is a demonstration of the harm youth oppression causes all people, not just youth. Its something Iíve always recognized, but hadnít had a neat science experiement to demonstrate it so clearly. We are all aware of the glass covering that causes our generation never ending head tramua, however we donít as much address the physcological damage and resulting defeatism caused by trying and failing to be free. It is not a small point.

The oppression of youth is not over on oneís 18th or 21st birthday. The damage of it becomes internalized and sticks with a person long into adulthood, often for life. I had always found it heartbreaking that youth seek freedom but find the door to freedom closed at every turn, whereas adults are free but no longer seek to be. An adultís life is ruled by fear and inhibitions. Traits no doubt learned as coping strategies while young.

Even I, the alpha freedom fighter recognize the same sad neurosis in myself. I excelled at creative mischief in high school. I didnít care what people thought of me, I had fun with not toeing the line and challenging silly social norms. I continued in college except the atmosphere changed entirely. Perhaps it was simply my new circle of friends, but I think it may be more than that. My friends recognized we were adults now, and one just doesnít behave outside of expected norms. Whenever I explored an amusing quirk I would be admonished. Finally I gave up. Youth culture may have killed my cat, but adult culture killed me.

Like the trapped flea, trapped humans respond with despair and eventually give up trying to be free. This is my challenge as a, ugh, adult and I know it stems from my experience and the experience of my peers as youth. Critics of youth rights, just ask why youth donít simply wait till they turn 18 or 21. It is clearly not that simple.

Youth rights is more than just that. Its about adult rights too. Its about freeing all of us from traps and prisons, be they imposed from without or within.

Written by:
3 March 2006

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