Why I Don’t Like ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go’

“As a norm of expectation or ambition, then, heroic discovery is potentially ruinous, and maybe insane. It is one of the versions of our obsession with ‘getting to the top.’ Unlike the culture of the European Middle Ages, which honored the vocations of the learned teacher, the country parson, and the plowman as well as that of the knight, or the culture of Japan in the Edo period which ranked the farmer and the craftsman above the merchant, our own culture places an absolute premium upon various kinds of stardom. This degrades and impoverishes ordinary life, ordinary work, and ordinary experience. It depreciates and underpays the work of the primary producers of goods, and of the performers of all kinds of essential but unglamorous jobs and duties. The inevitable practical results are that most work is now poorly done; great cultural and natural resources are neglected, wasted, or abused; the land and its creatures are destroyed; and the citizenry is poorly taught, poorly governed, and poorly served.

Moreover, in education, to place so exclusive an emphasis upon ‘high achievement’ is to lie to one’s students. … The goal of education-as-job-training, which is now the dominant pedagogical idea, is a high professional salary. Young people are being told, ‘You can be anything you want to be.’ Every student is given to understand that he or she is being prepared for ‘leadership.’ All of this is a lie. Original discovery is not everything. You don’t, for instance, have to be an original discoverer in order to be a good science teacher. A high professional salary is not everything. You can’t be everything you want to be; nobody can. Everybody can’t be a leader; not everybody even wants to be. And these lies are not innocent. They lead to disappointment. They lead good young people to think that if they have an ordinary job, if they work with their hands, if they are farmers or housewives or mechanics or carpenters, they are no good.”

— Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle

Pinterest says to have each of your child’s teachers autograph a copy, to be given as a highschool graduation gift. Barf.

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4 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Like ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go’

  1. I wish more people would distinguish between your responsibility to “be all you can be” (that is, to use the talents God gave you in order to glorify Him) and “you can be/do anything you want!” Some days Lucy tells me she wants to be a ballerina. Sure, she could be a dancer…but she’s probably going to be, like, 5’10” as an adult, and encouraging her to follow this dream would probably lead to disappointment. (Not to mention anorexia.) She has plenty of other talents that are wiser to cultivate.
    I just love the line from Pixar’s The Incredibles, Dash’s response to his mom telling him everyone is special: “Which is just another way of saying no one is.” It points to another problem with the current way of thinking, which somehow simultaneously devalues the achievements of truly gifted people and the nobleness of hard, “ordinary” work.
    Okay, you can have the soapbox back now. 🙂

    • Faith, that’s a really great distinction. I think that nails it.

      And isn’t it crazy to think of your kids being that much taller than you? The woes of short moms 🙂

    • I like his more nonsensical books, like Hop on Pop, etc….Lucia went through a serious Dr. Seuss phase when she was in the 15-20 mo range, and they were the first books she really started sitting through/getting into. So I appreciate him and his catchy rhyme schemes for that. His more preachy books do annoy me, though.

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