THERE is a scene from the 1936 Charlie Chaplin film, Modern Times, called The Eating Machine.
In this four-minute scene, Chaplin, who plays a factory worker, is chosen to demonstrate a contraption designed to automate eating. He is made to stand before the machine, and then strapped so that he can’t move his hands, and before him is a turntable with food.
At first, the machine works well. A small platform underneath the bowl of soup moves it up to his mouth level, and then tilts automatically for him to sip the soup. Then the turntable moves around and a plate with bits of food is again raised to his mouth. Then a lever pushes the food into his mouth. Next comes a machine with corn on the cob that automatically moves from left to right, and turns the corn as he eats it.
Chaplin seems to be enjoying this very much as he pretty much doesn’t have to do anything except open his mouth to receive and chew the food. Then things begin to go wrong with the machine. The corn feeder doesn’t stop moving and turning and keeps rolling over his mouth even when he is done eating. The mechanics scramble to fix and reset the machine. They try again and this time, the soup gets spilled down Chaplin’s chest or gets thrown in his face. Another plate smacks pie on his face and another device bangs onto his lips.
Those who enjoy slapstick will probably laugh at this short clip, but I was actually sad as I watched it because it shows a lot that is wrong with our educational system. Kids sit helpless as adults decide what subjects they ought to learn. They force feed the material and keep heaping it on them even if they can no longer take it. The system itself is broken as there are many teachers who are incompetent, who abuse their authority, or pass arbitrary judgements on their students.
I just had a conversation with a friend, John, who talked about an incident he had with his chemistry teacher. He got into a heated argument with the teacher about a statement that she had made until the teacher finally told him to shut up because he was wrong. Later in the term, the teacher corrected that statement. One of John’s classmates then blurted out, “So ma’am, John was right after all.” As a result of that, John got the lowest grade possible for that class.
Talk about throwing a bowl of soup in one’s face...
Children have boundless energy, persistence and creativity. But we force them through the Eating Machine we call the educational system. That system tells them what is “important” for them to learn and tells them to “prioritize” those things first over other things that might interest them more, like maybe drawing, or fishing, or playing computer games. After around 20 years of their lives in this system, only the toughest ones will emerge with that energy and creativity still intact, but most will have been eaten by the Eating Machine.
Is it any wonder then, why we have so many “graduates” today who lack initiative, creativity and direction? You only have to look at the system that produces them and wonder no more.
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