I left school seven years ago (oh christ, I'm 25, etc). It was such a dreadful place - such a suffocating, overpowering, crushing, destructive place, even on top of the various kinds of insanity generated spontaneously by my brain along the way - that leaving it felt less like a chance to abandon everything it had taught me than an obligation to do so. I couldn't believe I was free of it, and so, to prove it to myself, I think I probably threw everything overboard - all the long, stupid, pointless lessons in subjects I hated teaching things I couldn't care less about, yes, but a great deal of the things I'd enjoyed, as well, because I couldn't remember having enjoyed them, at the time. I couldn't remember ever having enjoyed anything, by the time I left school, except the company of a few people I'd mostly met on the internet. (Hi, guys.)
I've been reading Ben Goldacre's Bad Science. Seriously, the only reason I originally wanted to read it was that I think Ben Goldacre is an extremely attractive man who has a turn of phrase that entertains me. That's a shallow reason to pick up a book; I'm quite a shallow person; I can't imagine anyone's surprised. After all, what can't I do? Science. What do I remember pretty much literally nothing of from school? Well, quite. What do I continually and publicly insist I'm not interested in? Not just science, but social issues, the media, the advertising industry, medicine - all things I could have reasonably (and accurately) expected to come up in this book that I started reading because I like its author's haircut.
While I type this, I've got a few other tabs open. One is his most recent Bad Science column, and two more are links spawned from it, about a truly inexcusable piece of journalism published in the Scottish Sunday Express. One of those tabs is dissecting the content of the piece; one of them is taking apart the way in which it's written. I remember that. I remember doing that, being able to notice the ways in which writers manipulate details and/through language to bludgeon their point into your skull, potentially without your noticing it. I'm looking analytically at something that isn't myself, music, or 20th century poetry, for what is probably the first time since I was seventeen.
You seriously cannot overestimate the killing effect that school had on the kind of child I was when I first went there. At prep school (now is not the time, people) I was interested in everything (except sport, of course, where I didn't feel like I was learning anything) - shit at some things, certainly, maths and science have never been strong points of mine, but I still cared. I was fascinated by the numbers I couldn't make sense of, and enchanted by the bewildering bits of machinery that appeared to represent this bizarre thing they called 'physics'. Then I moved schools, and was genuinely, honest-to-god told that my desire to learn things was going to disrupt the school and I had to get rid of it. My parents were told it, too. I don't think any of us understood it, but one thing was very clear - I was very lucky to be at that school, and I had to stay there.
It crushed the life out of me. I lost interest in every single academic subject except English. I know I was lucky that my first school was so keen to encourage learning and to teach kids more of what they were more interested in, and I'm sure the idea of school being dull and disheartening and pedestrian and consisting of hoop-jumping wouldn't come as a surprise to the vast majority of people in this country - though that in itself is a huge shame - but it came as a fucking massive shock to me. I just wanted to learn stuff, which is what I'd been told school was for, it being, you know, somewhere you go to learn stuff, and now I was being specifically told that I wasn't allowed to learn stuff. Or at least, that if I wanted to learn things - anything at all new, for the first year I was there - I was going to have to do it myself, on my own, with no help, and in between studying and being tested on eighteen subjects. I don't care how much innate initiative you have; I was thirteen and already quite mad anyway. It wasn't possible.
I lost the love of learning. To a large extent, it stayed lost, except when it came to pop music, because that was one thing nobody else in the world seemed to think was important and so I felt like I had true control over it. I taught myself everything I could about that, as most of you know, but other than that, I didn't care; all through GCSEs, A levels, and to a large extent since leaving school, all the way up until now. I've used those bits of my brain to find out more about people, instead; what makes them work, what makes me work, how they interact, how I interact with them, anything that could help me or my friends be less batshit, basically. And that's not a waste of it. That's something else that isn't considered important in school, or wasn't in mine (despite the hilarious and amazingly useless subject of PSE/PSME/whatever), and it's not been pointless.
But reading this is making my brain work in a way it hasn't for seven years, if not more. And it's a joy. And, unbelievably, I care. I care about the statistics he writes about; I care about the impact on society of the bullshit he explains; I care about the science, and the methodology, and the history, and the media, and the medicine. What the fuck. Those of you who know me know I'm a deeply disappointing human being when it comes to giving a damn about things I can't directly experience. It's part special brain, part laziness, and part the result of the deadening of bits of my mind when I didn't know what was happening to me. I'm not writing this as some kind of claim of brilliance, or like this epiphany should be in any way significant to anybody else literally anywhere in the actual world, I swear to god. I don't see why anyone else would find this anything other than hilarious, frankly, littered as it is with very obvious evidence of how fucking lucky I've been my whole life. But it's significant to me, and so I wrote it down. And I'm very grateful to this man I'll never meet, and his book.
I suppose I ought to write a thank-you letter to his hairdresser.
And now I've edited the stupid mistakes out of this post, I can go and get that extra sleep I'm obviously needing. -_- Sorry. xx