Asbestos Head Chapter 10 - Competitive Education

Pot Head
-Competitive Education-

Pot Head’s a rural area high school teacher who does drugs with his students.  He holds degrees in education, sociology, and psychology and has been using marijuana, opium, and psychedelic mushrooms in the classroom for years.  He argues that many teenagers are experimenting with even harder drugs in a destructive manner, distracting them from schoolwork, causing them to skip classes, fail and drop out.  However, when introduced correctly in an educational context, certain plants can provide a passion for knowledge and introspection.  They create an open, fun, and loving atmosphere in which true communication can be built between fellow students and teachers alike.  99% of Pot Head’s special life skills class graduates go onto college; all other teachers see improvement in grades, behavior, and notice a genuine love for learning among his students.  His classroom approach is simple but unorthodox: Comfortable swivel seats in a circle.  No tables, textbooks, boards, papers, pens or other distractions from true education.  Just many young minds perfectly aligned glancing excitedly with curious eyes.

Pot Head closes the door and takes his equal seat in the circle.  Welcome to Life Skills.  As you all know We’re going to be taking drugs and talking in this class.  We’ll be going on mushroom field trips, writing opium poetry, smoking pot and discussing Our thoughts, and that’s about it.  No notes, no syllabus, no homework but books you choose and only one rule: Truth.  Everyone must swear they’ll only speak their true feelings in this classroom.  Education is not memorizing information; it’s knowledgeable exploration of yourselves.  What I want to teach you here is the truth about yourselves, so if you lie to each other or me, it disadvantages Us all. Speak honestly and if We touch on subjects you wish not to talk about, simply say so and We’ll move on.

First of all you’ll notice We’re sitting in a circle - the one, and only suitable seating configuration for a classroom. Sitting in rows facing front takes focus off each other and places it on fantasy objectives.  Switching to rows of separate desks came about during the industrial age with motives focused not on education theory, but toward creating a populous pre-accustomed to a factory-like setting. Nowadays nothing has changed and it can’t because there are too many students, too few true teachers, and too little funding.  So it serendipitously happens that the state enforces banker-hour school days, five days a week, with standardized testing, textbooks, and curriculums designed to compete students against all others for high grades and praise from the boss at the black board; then after school are often required to continue their competitive development in the wonderful sports programs, universally allocated more money than the arts. 

From 1852-1918 state education was optional in the US. Then after that it was mandatory only for 9-12 year olds, 10-12 weeks a year, and even that was met with extreme opposition. They've slowly lengthened the time and age range until now 4 year olds are in preschool and 26 year old doctors are still being indoctrinated.

I reject factory-seating, standardized tests, textbooks and curriculums because they all constrict the relationship of the teacher to the students and the students to each other.  They shape clear competitive objectives with tried methods, testing, and grading procedures that produce results showing how compliant students are with the demands required of them.  As far as actual knowledge acquired, most of it is forgotten after the test.  And why is this?  Because you kids don’t care!  Why would you?  You’re bored of what We teach you and how We do it.  You’re taught that education is just a long hurdle you’ll hate then jump over to land perfectly in a pair of leather shoes on wall street like a good competitor.  Rarely does a student graduate with a genuine love of learning that continues for the rest of their lives.  Philosophy, the subject that means love of wisdom, the subject bursting to be explored by blossoming teenagers, is left as an elective at the Academy.

There are no anthropology, sociology, or psychology courses in public high schools.  Three of the most enlightening subjects on human nature and finding one’s place in the world, the very state teenagers find themselves in naturally, such fundamental subjects are again post-poned until college in favor of asinine edification like trigonometry and geography.  The fact We even have geography class is ridiculous.  You know, the world is round and countries aren’t real anyway, but meanwhile commit these place names to memory, major imports and exports, capitals, policies, minor wars, treaties; it’s important, We assure you.  Actually the interesting aspects of geography are in geology, sociology, and political science, three subjects that, again, you won’t be learning.  

There’s no religion or theology taught in schools, so Our kids are ignorant of the world’s deepest beliefs and rely on their parents to fill them in.  In math classes there is no number theory and rarely math history, the two most fascinating branches of mathematics are overlooked in favor of daily drills and rote memorization of functions and equations.  No one reads about Aristotle, Boole, Russell, Riemann or Ramanajan, they just practice fifteen thousand ways to apply the Pythagorean theorum.

In physics there’s seldom anything so interesting as astronomy, cosmology, relativity, or quantum mechanics taught.  Instead they opt for memorizing Newton's laws then performing obvious experiments on how gravity affects everyday objects, chart it, graph it, form a formula, hypothesis, procedure, results and conclusion.  No one actually attempts Dirac, Feynman, Einstein or Hawking.  The same applies for chemistry and biology.  Bunson burn some water and disect something disgusting then type two reports a week.  Memorize these elements and ions, label some cell structures, and ignore the exciting active explorations for things like the origin of life and species, evolution and adaptation, nature vs. nurture, Carson, Curie, Darwin, Dawkins, Goodall or Gould.

In English We force Shakespeare and Milton; it’s like reading Howl to Shelley.  Poetry, if offered, focuses on stresses, syllables, and copying classical forms.  You start with the scraps of some Egyptian woman, might hit Whitman before the term ends and if you never see another poem again it’ll be too soon.  You teenagers should be reading more easily accessible Authors, beat poets and free verse.  If the so-called classics interest you at this age, all the better, but until then you’ll probably enjoy counter-culture writers like Adams, Ashbury, Asimov, Baraka, Berrigan, Bukowski, Dick, Dostoyevsky, Emerson, Huxley, Keroac, Lewis, Ginsberg, Thoreau, Tolkien, Twain, Vonnegut, Watts, Wells, and these are just a few of the pre-approved Authors on Our reading list. 

He holds up a world history textbook and rips the front page out.  “This is a fantasy.  They scrape the surface of every major change in humanity throughout recorded history, find a binding big enough, then hinge your grades upon remembering names, dates and nothing of substance.   History's taught on a Christian time-line between wars and treaties, floods and famines, rises and falls of kingdoms and dynasties, a soap opera of government control oppressing the oppressed, suppressing their information out of existence, then lining Our libraries with supposed world history.  In books that leave out the trail of tears in favor of the Oregon trail, books that immortalize European conquerors who murdered entire civilizations, books that suggest Cro-magnum migration over a land bridge from Asia, books that skip New world Christian-settler's atrocities like murdering many millions more native Americans than Nazis did during the holocaust, books that call capitalist domination a communist scare, books that call greedy weapons manufacturing a cold war, books that call the last sixty years peacetime.  History continues doomed to repeat itself because its lessons aren't taught nor are student's interpretations expressed.  You're simply required to synopsize and memorize then wait to regurgitate it later.

He lines the front page with marijuana and starts rolling.  Your first assignment is to take out a bunch of books by the Authors mentioned and start reading them.  You’ll know in the first few pages if they speak to you, and if they do, keep reading, if not, try another Author.  Kindred spirits have beautifully expressed things in books youll look for your whole life.  I guarantee reading good books ensures a lifetime of more meaningful moments than you'll ever experience watching T.V., playing video games, chatting on the phone or online.  Even if you have to fight for your own attention, that's part of your educational awakening, your aesthetic enlightenment. 

He makes eye contact and smiles with each student individually then lights the joint.  "Medicine men, spiritual guides, and various tribes throughout history have used drugs for bonding, mental development, and entertainment, but the tradition has been lost in the laws of most modern societies. There are over-the-counter drugs for the consenting hypocritical masses and under-the-counter drugs for the fearless and morally consistent.  Around the world, governments and systems of mass media paint evil pictures of drugs and their users.  They showcase the worst examples often enough and condition populations to view drug-users as escapists or failures.  But drugs need not be destructive.  When incorporated correctly, they provide a beautiful enhancement to reality.  Responsible drug use is eye opening, surreal, educational, and fun.  Most of the negativity surrounding drugs is imposed by non-users with something to lose. It’s important to decide for yourself and that’s what this course is for.  That’s what education is.  Drugs challenge your thoughts and relationship with the world.  They temporarily alter your perceptions by numbing, enhancing, or otherwise tweaking sensory input which begs such philosophical questions as what is reality?  What is knowledge?

He passes it carefully to the student on his left.  “The extent of drug education in most schools involves a police officer, a suitcase of drugs, and the repeated assurance that there’s nothing but negativity inside. However, take pot as Our example for today: Cannabis use in America is higher per capita than in Holland where it's legal.  Our first few presidents were marijuana growers and activists, yet Now in America twenty percent of all prison convictions are marijuana-related.

The Hindu religion believes that Shiva brought marijuana to Earth for human enjoyment.  It stimulates brain receptors but doesn't produce toxins that kill them like alcohol.  It impairs your short-term memory during use, but has no long-term effects.  No brain damage, no cardiovascular damage, no reproductive damage, no hormone alteration, and it even has hundreds of medicinal uses.  It helps labor pain, headache, anxiety, glaucoma, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, chemo-recovery, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.  The oil from seeds is nutritious when eaten or can be used for making paints and canvas.  Hemp yields twice the product of cotton fields, can be grown without pesticides or insecticides, and it's clothing is more durable and environmentally friendly than cotton, nylon, or synthetic fibers.  2X4s made from 100% pot-planks are two to three times stronger than most trees.  All plastics could be replaced by hemp; Bags, wrappers, containers could all be edible, fully biodegradable, and act as fertilizer if littered. Gasoline could even be replaced by refining its ethanol.

Since discovered over five thousand years ago paper has been made with pot plant pulp; Even the first Gutenberg and King James Bibles were printed on hemp paper.  Hemp fields are sustainable and yield four times more product per acre than trees.  Hemp is the longest and strongest fiber in the plant kingdom, produces the finest quality pulp, and doesn't release dioxins or chloroform during the paper-making process, but it has recently been replaced by wood-pulp due to cost efficiency and government control.

As the students continue to pass it around there’s a knock on the door.  Asbestos Head enters and is promptly introduced.


"Students, I want you to welcome Our friend Asbestos."

Some students giggle, others wave, and others still sit still as night.  Asbestos lights his lighter, sets his hand afire, and then waves it out with a snap of his fingers saying:

We have no choice but to trust Our senses, though sometimes that trust is misplaced.  Our senses only perceive a small section of reality’s infinite spectrum of available information, so what We call knowledge is partial and all Our subsequent inferences are probably wrong.  So, you, tell me, what is consciousness?”

“Having a brain?” suggests one student.

Many organisms exhibit signs of consciousness without a brain.”

“Being able to make decisions?” offers another.

Computers constantly make decisions.  Are they conscious?”

“No," she answers.

Would it be possible to make a computer with consciousness?”

“No, because computers can’t think for themselves.  They can only do what they’re programmed to do.”

“What about Us?  Do We only do what We’re programmed or can We think for Ourselves?”

“We can think for Ourselves.”

“What if humans are really just fleshy computers, continually being reprogrammed by God or complex physical laws and even everything We think is determined.  It sure seems that way, when everything We do resembles everything We’ve done, and everything We think stays the same until We come across something that changes it.  How do you know We have consciousness?”

“I don’t know.”

“You can’t know.  In determining consciousness, We don’t know where to draw the line.  Are sunflowers conscious as they follow the sun?  Are single cells conscious as they seek and kill others?  Are atoms conscious of each other and themselves?  As you try to further refine the definition of consciousness, you’ll inevitably end up with two truths.  Everything is always moving and that motion is reactive.  At what point does reactivity become complex enough to be called consciousness?  Any answer is equally arbitrary.”

The students retreat into intense thought and Pot Head hands Asbestos a hand-wrapped present.

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