Some Thoughts on Jaden Smith’s Tweets on Education
Jaden Smith, son of Hollywood superstar Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith, made headlines recently by tweeting his opinions about education.
No one takes seriously the musings of the average 15-year-0ld on school, but Jaden isn’t the average 15-year-old. He is not only the offspring of celebrities, but also a celebrity in his own right, acting with his dad in The Pursuit of Happyness and the recent flop, After Earth, and starring in the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid. At the time of his tweets, his fame had garnered him about 4.5 million Twitter followers (which ranks him as the 215th most-followed account on Twitter). You have to assume that the vast majority of those followers are impressionable school-aged kids. That’s why I think it’s worth talking about.
Here’s what he said: On September 12, he tweeted,
“School Is The Tool To Brainwash The Youth,” and
“If Newborn Babies Could Speak They Would Be The Most Intelligent Beings On Planet Earth.”
The next day, he wrote
“If Everybody In The World Dropped Out Of School We Would Have A Much More Intelligent Society.”
It’s caused quite the stir. Educators and supporters of public education have decried his comments as stupid and irresponsible. Homeschooling advocates have had mixed responses, but most are at least partially supportive.
What I Think
What do I think about it? Well, first, celebrity or not, Jaden is a kid. That means I don’t take his opinions too seriously and neither should you. Sure, he’s a role model of sorts, but he’s still a teen with a Twitter account. Go easy on him–whether you agree or not.
Jaden and his sister had been in a school largely funded by his parents up until recently. The school closed and Mom and Dad took the kids home for their education. Good for them. My wife and I homeschool our four daughters and support the right to home educate. It sounds like Jaden cares about learning and is enthusiastic about the opportunities homeschooling provides. His thoughts may need some refining, but I’m impressed that he cares enough to develop an opinion at all.
Let’s get this one out of the way. The comment about babies being the most intelligent beings on planet earth is goofy. I think I get his implication–that babies haven’t been corrupted by the system and robbed of natural curiosity, etc. etc. Fine, but babies poop on themselves. The reason they don’t talk is that they haven’t developed the intelligence to…Wait. Stop. You get it. Moving on.
School as Brainwashing Tool
Are schools nothing but tools for brainwashing young people? No. That’s going too far. There are lots of good people in the education world and they come from many different perspectives. It’s not all part of a grand scheme to mold passive conformists ripe for Big Brother control. On the other hand, public schools by design tend to shove kids into molds. They are not particularly flexible and reward followership more than independent thinking. They were introduced as a way of producing a well-behaved working class. And the more the federal government injects itself into curriculum options like we are witnessing with the Common Core debates, the more centralized and controlled public education seems.
In other words, Jaden overstates the case, but there’s some truth in that comment.
To Get Smart, Drop Out
What about dropping out as the solution? Well, he gets that wrong too, but it’s likely he didn’t say what he really meant. There’s no inherent good in simply dropping out of school, of course. Certainly dropping out itself would not make anyone smarter. But if he meant what I think he meant–that if everyone ditched the education system as it is and took responsibility for their own education, we’d all be better off–I think I’d have to agree with that, at least in part.
Schools at the very least provide structure and some degree of discipline, and this is important for the large numbers of aimless, unmotivated young people in our culture. And that’s the heart of the problem. Kids don’t think it’s good to know stuff. And schools don’t do a very good job of inspiring a love for learning. For many students, whatever passion for knowledge once burned in their hearts has been doused by cement block walls, straight desk rows, and rigid, test-oriented course content.
But schools aren’t all bad. Some are excellent. Most are blessed with some wonderful, gifted teachers and administrators. Many find a way to succeed despite a flawed system and challenging home environment. And for too many kids, simply dropping out would lead only to indolence and purposelessness, not a kindled interest in the pursuit of knowledge.
If Jaden meant that education in this country is a mess that needs to be revamped, I’m with him. If he meant that knowledge-hungry teens seeking to satisfy their cravings through independent study at home is better than the insipid fare offered in too many of our nation’s schools, I’ve got his back.
Unfortunately, he didn’t say those things. He just encouraged kids to drop out. I wish instead of just dissing the system, he’d have encouraged kids to learn on their own, to get knowledge despite the school system they are a part of.
He didn’t though, and that leaves me wondering. But I’m not mad at him. He’s a kid. A kid who values intelligence. Let’s hope that in the years to come he will be able to use his celebrity to inspire a love for learning to his millions of fans–whether they are in school or not.
If a fifteen-year-old can express his thoughts to the world, you certainly can! Start by leaving a reply in the space below.