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Capitalist Education Hates Introspection

Is this why we can’t cry?

Introspection is difficult. Reflecting on how we are feeling, being honest about our emotions, and merely allowing ourselves to experience these emotions in the first place requires a lot of energy and practice. It is unsurprising that many of us aren’t accustomed to processing our emotions in healthy ways – our educational institutions have rarely taught us to value its importance. On the contrary, it seems as though they have discouraged us to spend time in the emotional realm. That’s why it makes sense for a lot of us to sweep so much of our emotions under a carpet that now no longer touches the floor. The consequence of your gross housekeeping habits can probably be seen in (combined with toxic masculinity, of course) all dads needing therapy, like, right now. 

I don’t think feeling was meant to be coupled with a rigorous capitalistic education. Despite classes and readings not technically taking up all 24 hours of our days, the importance it claims over our lives allows it to be pervasive in all corners of our mind and being. Oftentimes, our brains have been working at such academic intensity that our means of relaxing need to be absolutely brainless. This might manifest in the form of drugs, Netflix, going out, or mindless scrolling. After these “relaxing” yet silently stimulating activities, reflecting on our day or week appears futile. There are no emotions or stresses at present, so there is nothing to reflect on. These activities seem to act as means of detachment from the real world and its pressures, allowing us to briefly un-exist for the two hours watching Instagram reels while our eyes dry up into a crust. While that sounds like the type of break we need from a full day of thinking and working, it doesn’t provide us with rejuvenating, unadulterated rest that allows us to process emotions, or merely interactions, that we have experienced in our day. Instead, the feelings ignored end up under your mucky aforementioned carpet. It is questionable that educational institutions – subjects of authority that claim to teach us everything we must know – appear to ignore, or even discourage, this important exploration and processing of emotions.

Universities and schools assert that they maximise our wellness, though this claim overlooks the importance of students firstly addressing how they feel and how they can learn to truly feel. For example, our universities acknowledge the urgent requirement of mental health support for students; their effort is displayed by the mental health services stickers that often stare at me while I’m sat on the toilet. Yet, it seems as if some toxic ways of thinking that students aim to address through support (eg. unhealthy coping strategies) could have been initially prevented if it were addressed at its roots. Viewing this during our developmental years, schools do not explore introspective activities that encourage being honest about emotions and promote mindfulness, such as practicing meditation or journaling – those that dive deeper than economically-driven aptitude and career tests. To argue that it is an activity we must explore on our own contradicts the 24/7 nature of school and its self-asserted authority. A school often claims to teach most things we should know: “anti-bullying week” is thinly echoed through school corridors while my gym teacher shows me how to put a condom onto a banana. 

The lack of importance placed on introspection and reflection may have led students to neglect its value. What a school asserts as “important” is enough for our entire childhood to be based around it. A school’s  influence on our time and over our thoughts profoundly shapes our beliefs; the values it views as “preferable” are bound to influence what we as impressionable children judge to be desirable. The values we adopt as children are integral to what jobs we look for, which are also known as the jobs we hate the least that make the most money. It is unsurprising that a question I encountered more than once at school was, “Would you rather be rich or happy for the rest of your life?” The apathy that schools express towards the emotional realm unsurprisingly translates to our indifference when it comes to feeling, seemingly ignoring the craving felt from our bodies and hearts. This indifference may also permeate our decisions we make about the future: inability to self reflect leads us to jobs that make us unhappy. Hopefully, those of us who have had the privilege of schooling now understand that safe sex is good and making fun of people is bad, though self-exploration remains unexplored.This is perhaps why all 18 year old white kids flock to Bali to find themselves.

For the extremely privileged, our aptitude test results feed directly into higher education — one that claims high success and, therefore, high happiness. This trajectory appears to have placed us in autopilot mode wherein the end goal is graduation. On autopilot mode, any interventions that might divert this trajectory are raked to the side to promote a safe and efficient journey. With an ever increasing unemployment rate for graduates, the fear of stepping out of autopilot — a near-guaranteed state of monetary comfort — and coming face-to-face with an alternate, possibly happier, reality might be hampering this shift.

An important question to explore is: Why do academic institutions take part in this demonization of the emotional? Most institutions strive to be the best; they long to be considered prestigious, or to make it into the QS World University Rankings. To compete with other institutions, schools look to their students to compete with one another, searching for geniuses to plaster in their newsletter. To achieve this, the institutions’ environment must be stripped of fruitless distractions and replaced with logic, order, and discipline. At its core, many academic institutions merely convey its role in the betterment of society to mask its mechanical pursuit of profit. As an example, we can turn our heads to the mere cost of tuition at McGill, not to mention over $65 million of which has been invested in oil and gas.

The characteristics of most educational institutions seem to mirror the values that underlie our capitalist mode of production: efficiency, development, and alienation. For example, the disparity between funding towards disciplines that are considered more and less “economically fit” — often disciplines that support less  self-expression — is tangible. Schools have endorsed “valuable tools for life” through methods such as standardised tests and extreme penalties for deadlines. These methods not only emotionally and mentally threaten the general student population, but also disproportionately target those who are considered “lazy,” “slow learners,” and students with diagnosed and undiagnosed learning disabilities, almost as if to eliminate those unfit for the rigour of money-making through a mechanism of “academic natural selection.” While schools make certain efforts to accommodate the emotional and mental stress suffered by “the less ambitious” in a fast-paced world of “the gifted,” these efforts remain ineffective under a system like ours that perpetuates the admiration of acquiring academic success above all else.

The taboo of self-expression that schools foster for receptive, developmental minds to absorb produces implications for introspection and healthy emotional processing. The expression of emotion that departs from what schools deem acceptable is often punished, and attempts to understand these, perhaps “atypical,” expressions are rarely made. As we are disciplined to push through, to keep working, despite not feeling up to standard, it is plausible that our neuro-plastic brains adapt to pushing negative emotions to the side in the name of success; pushed so far to the side that looking for them becomes a task in itself, let alone processing them. It appears that this would be less of a dilemma provided that therapy wasn’t $150 an hour and considered shameful in many cultures.

Though likely insufficient (without, in my opinion, a reform of the academic system), a potential way forward is for educational institutions to accept individuality and invite their students to look inwards to allow self-expression, self-reflection, and self-exploration during the developmental years of school. This would require a deliberation of the current disciplinary measures that claim to promote productivity and defeat laziness, which, in reality, only produce fear, anxiety, and stress in students; which, in turn, preserves a cycle of un-feeling. More fundamentally, this would require a reevaluation of exceedingly capitalist values of efficient development upheld by the institutions, as values are what seem to underlie action.