The Sheep and the Lion: How much is public education worth?

There is a term called “going down the rabbit hole” that is used to understand abstract and deep concepts. Depending on how far down the rabbit hole you want to go can determine your resolve for understanding a problem. This article is a “big picture” view of going down a rabbit hole more than some people are willing to go in regard to public education and the value it has for society.

The following radio broadcast from Doc Thompson is very good, and comfortably sits on the edge of that rabbit hole, where even this much people are unwilling to go. But I offer it as an alternative to the text that follows. Or I offer it to help the rest of the text go down more easily. But beware, if you want to maintain any illusions about education, then turn away from this page immediately. I talk about some of my personal experiences again, partly because there has been much speculation. But the opinions will not be comfortable for the reader wanting to continue “not seeing.”

The first thing that teachers assume of school reformers is that they must not have done very well in school, or that they had a hard time in college, or that they are simply social outcasts that have some vendetta against public education. What they fail to consider, because such a thought is outside of their “bubble” of experience is that there is a portion of society that think for themselves and have seen the scam for what it is, deciding to not take part in the whole process.

In my case, I decided long ago that the system didn’t work. It never worked for me because I’ve never been happy in a follower position. I’ve always questioned authority, my entire life. In fact, in kindergarten, I missed several of my recesses for arguing with the teachers. It became apparent to me early on that education wasn’t so much about learning arithmetic, language, and art, as it was about learning how to take direction.

I have had great success in life by being a leader. To date, the only thing I’ve received from family, friends or “others” is a workbench vice I inherited from my grandfather when he died. Money, or money gained from property sales passed down through my family have never found their way to me, and on purpose. I resist any relationships where I take a passive role and where a gift can be used as leverage against me down the road.

Now to many people who may seem extreme. However, if you want freedom, you must have freedom of such predatory relationships. And, unfortunately teachers, by design, form a predatory relationship with their students the way the system is currently set up.

When I was younger, I will admit that there was a blood bath that followed in my wake. I spent a lot of time in court, in fights with other students, and in general trouble with officials in school. Much of that trouble came simply because I refused to submit to an authority figure. That’s it. I never looked for trouble. I just didn’t like authority figures and since socially, submission of some kind to authority is required, I was in for a constant barrage of trouble which found me.

It has never occurred to me that I was in the wrong for taking this position. It doesn’t take a brilliant mind to sit in one of the many parties that I attended and see the failure of public education. Many of the kids back then when speaking of Pink Floyd would proclaim, “Man, you have to be wasted to understand The Wall.” At those parties stoned classmates would watch MTV with awe as “We Don’t Need No Education” played displaying a bunch of kids being processed in a factory, faceless and being cast into a meat grinder. Such a metaphor was very similar to my own thoughts, but I never did drugs and I certainly wasn’t wasted. I went to parties back then to pick up girls that were, but I did not partake in that behavior.

If you want to understand a culture, study its music, and you will learn a lot.

You would think that many parents would have wanted their kids to spend their time with me. After all, I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t use curse words, I helped people when I could, I was polite and well spoken. But I was also defiant, inquisitive, and perpetually skeptical. In fact there were two rules that people riding in my car had to live with when I was 16.  (And note that I did not have a shortage of people wanting to spend time with me.  It was the parents that didn’t want their kids around me.)  First, there was no smoking allowed. Second, we would not play Pink Floyd on my car stereo, because I understood the stuff all too well and thought it was depressing to meditate on such things, where many of the youth back then did. One of my best friends back then was told by his mother and father to stay away from Rich Hoffman. He’s not the kind of kid I want you to be friends with.

His mother’s preferences were the drug induced kids from the neighborhood, whose parents she knew. My friend became addicted to drugs and was lost eventually, but not because he was friends with me. If he had been friends with me, he wouldn’t have done drugs, or stolen from people. He wouldn’t have contracted a variety of STD’s and probably would have entered adulthood with his head on straight.

My head has always been on straight, even when authority figures wanted me to believe otherwise.

The next question that arrives is that why would authority figures wish to convince a person that they are in need of care. The answer to that is easy. Authority figures are perpetually in need of justifying their existence. Since their lives and careers are embedded in the lives of others, they are terribly insecure of people who don’t need them.

College wasn’t any different. When I was there, young people were more interested in the social aspects of college life than the scholastic and the whole thing seemed like a money pit to me. Professors were seeking to drag out studies that could be done in weeks into events that went on for months so they could charge $10 per credit hour or more. The charge alone for books was an obvious scam. That’s how it appeared to me, and I still feel that way.

I’ve lived a life full of education, but also free of authority figures. And I’ve had success in life when I became old enough to be sought after as a leader, because that is my natural impulse. I don’t wake up in the morning looking for power or influence. But when I’m in a collaborative effort with others, I am only comfortable in a leadership role. That’s my nature and I understand it.

So I understand the frustration people who have committed, and submitted their lives to such things as to my motives and their speculation of my back ground. The idea of cutting all ties into their lives that are corrosive and manipulative is a completely foreign concept to them and something they cannot fathom.

Even knowing that the public education system was seriously flawed, I sent my kids anyway. My wife always liked school, until she met me, and she felt our children should have school in their lives. I argued that the kids could learn faster if they took a more independent route, but I listened to her opinion on the matter. The result, my kids breezed through school. I taught them not to take the whole thing too serious and not to submit to any authority and they navigated through the experience very well without all the pitfalls that most kids go through regarding peer pressure and social-climbing.

The reason for this explanation is that there is a story in mythology that I learned a long time ago that I think about a lot. It goes something like this; a lion was separated from his parents and was discovered by a herd of sheep. The sheep took the lion in and raised it for many years.

The lion grew to full size and was roaming around in the herd with the other sheep where a pack of lions hunting the sheep saw the lion and called him over whispering.  “Hey, what are you doing? You’re roaming around with the sheep.”

All the Sheep trained Lion could say was, “Baaaaahaaahaaa.” Because his instruction came from the sheep all his life, he didn’t know any better.

The lions took the Sheep/Lion to the river and said, “Look at your reflection. You’re one of us. You’re not a sheep. You’re supposed to eat those creatures.”

The story goes on where the Sheep/Lion rediscovers his true identity and becomes in the end what he was meant to be.

Human beings are no different. We all are lions in sheep’s clothing. It’s a cultural phenomenon indicative of authoritarian culture created when humans moved from a nomad society to an agricultural society. Europe and all its problems are derived from attempting to maintain human beings in an agricultural society, including their attempt at education.

Those that settled the United States left that behavior behind in Europe in favor of a Lion’s life in the New World and it was so important to them that they’d risk their life to have it.

My oldest daughter and I had a long talk under the stars till about 3 AM one night a few years ago and she asked me what she was supposed to do with all the stuff I taught her. After all, it’s a fine line between enlightenment and insanity. The slopes to insanity are steep if you are not within the safety of the herd. It’s not that she questioned the truth of it, but co-existence with others becomes difficult when you insist on living awake when the people around you insist on being asleep.

I told her that most of the people who think in such a way as I do, end up going insane by their early 40’s, or they become abusers of drugs in order to maintain that reality to themselves against the current of sheep, that secretly wish the safety of the herd, so they turn to chemical abuse to numb them.

“How do you keep from going crazy?”

I smiled at her, “You have to start with being grounded to begin with. You read a lot and study other Lion’s that have lived full lives and witness how they did it. You don’t abuse alcohol or drugs or sub come to other human weaknesses. But you have to not compare yourself to the sheep around you, because relative to them, you will seem crazy. The life of a sheep and the life of a lion are completely different. The sheep grazes in the field, and travels in a pack. They mate and give birth occasionally. They run away when a predator comes near and if they live to old age, they die eventually as their bodies break away. The Loin travels in a pack when they find hunting that way more convenient, but they stay solitary animals most of the time. Like most cats, they are happiest when they are alone.”

That took the conversation into a different direction, the difference between dogs and cats.

I personally like dogs. They are always happy to see you. They are intensely loyal, even when you abuse them. Cats, they only come around when they want a lap to lay in. If they get mad at you, they’ll avoid you. They never seem to sink deep roots in their owner. They seem to choose their loyalty carefully and that loyalty leaves quickly if the relationship is strained. Those types of differences can be found in people too. Society expects dogs and the loyalty of them. But some people are just cats. We might sub consciously call those types a “cool cat.” I would make the psychological argument that what the nation is experiencing with Charlie Sheen right now is that very complex. It’s no secret that public characters like Snoop Dog, Charlie Sheen and Dennis Rodman are dear to the deep recesses of the human condition. Socially those characters are rejected, but when the doors are closed and the arms of a woman are wrapped around them, the truth is revealed.

To my observation of public education is that it fails at a fundamental level. It teaches our youth to be sheep and not lions. My view is taken in the context of philosophy, and I understand that many people in our society aren’t ready for that line of thought. They want to be sheep, and they want their kids to be sheep.

So the argument then becomes one of business. Can we afford the current form of public education? No. The way the unions have structured their contracts have turned the whole funding of education into a Ponzi scheme much like Social Security. The step increases that were negotiated require higher and higher taxes to maintain the funding, and we’ve hit the wall.

One of the benefits of being a leader type is that I don’t have the burden of appeasing any group. So I can look objectively at the situation and name the problems for what they are, because I’m not looking at any part of the problem with emotion. I already think the system is broken; I am not looking for ways to justify the behavior. And I have no illusion that by throwing more money at the situation that it will solve anything. All it does is push the wall a bit to delay the crash that’s happening. It’s hard for many people to see the wall because they don’t want to believe it’s there, because public education has become for them much more than basic education services. Sports provide the possibility of college scholarships, and school social events provide opportunities for young people to “interact” and discover themselves.

Teachers that truly believe they are the saviors of society are particularly arrogant in their thinking on this issue. But much of their work can be replaced with a computer in this new century, where the computer is ironically much more personable. I don’t say that out of a dislike of teachers, which I’ve admitted that I personally don’t like authority figures, but the idea of a solitary figure speaking to a class where the weakest link of the class sets the pace is archaic.

In truth, my dislike of public education was based on that one principle. I couldn’t stand the pace of the learning. I’m a person that enjoys doing things at a fast pace. And the classroom was always just too slow for me. Now I may be the exception, but it is apparent that it doesn’t work very well for other students either. The difference is other students were content to learn how to “game” the system, get their passing grades and move on to the next grade. Most of the time they forgot what they learned by the next semester because their goal was not to learn the material, it was to get a passing grade and advance to the next level.

When you learn to be a lion, a leader in the world, you will find that your services are always in high demand, because such people are rare when they are in great need. So career worries go away, where the sheep of the world are always concerned if the farmer will feed them, or if a predator will attempt to hunt them down and kill them, the lion doesn’t concern themselves with such matters. And thinking like a lion does not mean that I automatically support a sports team like the Cincinnati Bengals.

My favorite football team is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers so when my wife and I want to go to a football game, we fly down to Tampa to watch them play. It is more practical to me to fly 1000 miles to see a good team than to drive 20 miles to see a bad one. If I’m going to pay for the NFL experience, I’m going to enjoy it, and not just do what’s convenient. A few years ago, when we were waiting for a night game to start, we were killing some time at The International Mall, which is within walking distance to Raymond James Stadium, one of my favorite places in the world. We spent half an afternoon needlessly shopping and still had some time to kill before the gates opened, so we stopped by a very elaborate booth for Rosetta Stone Software located in the middle of the mall.

The attendant at the booth gave me a head set and computer and let my wife and I play with the foreign language software for several hours. When I finished, and we headed over to the game, I realized that the way we are currently learning foreign language and just about everything in public education is outdated. That Rosetta Stone Software had made learning much more practical and interactive, and that the only reason public school did not leap into this style of learning was because the teacher unions would stand in the way of that innovation.

They’d stand in the way because public education had become more about creating jobs than actually learning. The current focus was maintaining the system along the same fashion that education had been embarking on since schools were a one room building. The only thing that’s changed is the school became larger, but the teacher at the front of the room is the same, and it is no longer as necessary.

One of the arguments for this big system is that poor students don’t have access to computers and they need a teacher to help them, because they don’t have a family to take care of them at home. This is the way the unions sell their service now and why they insist on the current costly form of education. It has more to do with social structure and social ills, than actual educational performance, which shows in the students.

It’s easy for me to see all this because I wasn’t happy with the system to begin with. But I’m happy to pay my taxes and participate if the rest of the members of my community want it. And we do pay a lot in property taxes. But when I hear schools lie to people, and I see teacher unions manipulating the situation and attacking people for questioning their motives, then it changes the argument.

To participate in a system blindly costs money, not to mention social consequences. My view of those social consequences might be extreme to many, even though privately most people agree with me once they close their eyes at night and can read their thoughts across the backs of their eye lids. But the financial burden of the public education system needs to be broken down and restructured, and unions stand in the way of that, so that is the reason for the adversarial relationship. The more hate mail and comments I receive, the more convinced I am of the lack of merit in public education.

The intent behind the name calling, and the attempt to silence any critics are to continue to ask for more money to keep a broken system functioning. As I’ve established, I am an employer, and I’ve heard every possible justification and excuse from employees over the years that wish to convince me that they are special, and that they and only they can do a particular job. After several hundred of those statements you learn to see what truth is and what fiction is. As an employer you must have an understanding of the job you are asking people to do, otherwise you are guilty of not being able to make a proper assessment, and are 100% reliant on your employees to tell you how valuable they are. And they will try, and if you don’t know, they will take advantage of you 99% of the time.

With public education, I’ve been there and done that. I learned a lot more when I finally got out of public education because the barriers to learning were removed, and I was able to attack it at the fast pace I enjoy. I have had to provide instruction to people myself, and teach, lead and assess talent, so I understand what works and what doesn’t. And I’ve had success outside the classroom. Many of the professors and teachers that I’ve known over the years fit the description, “those that can’t do, teach,” meaning that people who can do are in the world working and producing, those who aren’t comfortable with producing stay in the safe world of academia, and they teach, or they attempt to be professional students. I have known more than a few of those types and have actually given a few of them jobs much to my frustration, because they are so timid. They tend to be the type of person that will stand at the side of a pool and stick their foot in to see how cold the water is. I’m the type that will jump in regardless of the temperature so they frustrate me to no end. But it takes all kinds of people to make the world go around, so I put up with them. The question is not whether or not those people have worth. They do somewhere. The question is are they worth six figures? No!

Public education if we look at it for what it is it’s for many people an opportunity for their kid to get a scholarship for higher education. For others it’s a day care facility, because parents are busy with their lives and don’t have anywhere to put their kids while they are at work. Let’s face it and call the situation what it is.

My goal is to see kids actually learn something. I think the whole idea needs to be turned upside down and rebuilt, because as I look around, the people functioning in the world around me are failing. The divorce rate is too high. The moral standards are too low. People’s understanding of politics is abysmal. Their understanding of geography is pathetic, some people actually don’t even know where India is! Their confidence in themselves is terrible and they pass that along to their children, which raises more insecure children. All these are social failures which to me start with a failure of public education, and more money does not solve it. We’ve poured a lot of money into the situation, and it has not worked.

It is easy to attempt to maintain the status quo by proclaiming that its critics “don’t like” education, or some other loose term. It would be expected for sheep to make vicious proclamations of the lion, because deep down inside, the sheep wish they had the courage to be lions, but they don’t. All that’s left is to hurl insults in an attempt to cover the fat life of the herd animal that just seeks more and more feed to provide nourishment to its virulent existence within the confines of the barn yard. My concern is the larger issue of actual performance as a primary concern, and secondly, of the financial stability, which is proven to be not well thought out.

The old games are no longer effective because the sheep in the barn yard have noisily protested for years and now we see that they are all fat and need to be sheered. And it is my hope that once we start doing the sheering that we will find beneath all the hair that some of those sheep are actually lions, and can return to their natural state and teach others to be lions and return the nation to what it started as, and avoid a fate of a depleted, crushed Europe full of glory from some ancient time while the future leaves it behind.

Unfortunately only leader types are able to see that far ahead. The sheep are only looking at their next meal, but the big cats, the lions lay perched in trees and look out over the savanna to what is far off and they will be the first to see what is invisible to everyone else.

Education needs reformed for more reasons than one and we will have it, because it’s what’s good for America, not just those that have built lives off it.

Rich Hoffman!/overmanwarrior