Jaden Smith Bucks the American Education SystemSeptember 25th, 2013
It’s not unusual for an adolescent to act out in rebellion against the powers that be, whether it’s parental authority, the government or unquestioned systems of our everyday life, in this case we’re talking about school. These days social media is the perfect place to vent, rant or instigate dialogue. But while the average Smith could easily voice a controversial opinion and have it be forgotten days later, when the Smith in question is the child of Will and Jada, and a young star-turned teen sensation Jaden Smith, the waves become a tsunami.
The Karate Kid star recently took to Twitter to call into question us Americans are indoctrinated by the “system”, saying:
“If newborn babies could speak they would be the most intelligent beings on planet earth.” Followed by a series of jabs aimed squarely at American institutions of learning. Smith writes:
“If everybody in the world dropped out of school we would have a much more intelligent society,” then, “Education is rebellion,” and more to the point, “School is the tool to brainwash the youth.”
As expected there has been a sizable backlash to Jaden’s comments, particularly by education professionals. Some of the responses have been the typical “what does this spoiled rich kid know about education?” While other were less combative, like education blogger Jamar Ramos’ open letter, which points out Jaden’s indisputable position as a role model as well as a discussion about the real world challenges faced by the average person that would potentially drop out of school. Jaden has yet to respond but received a huge show of support from a fellow thespian, who also happens to be one of the biggest stars of our generation, Drake.
The Young Money MC/crooner took the stage at the iHeartRadio music festival in Las Vegas sporting a t-shirt with Jaden’s awestruck facial expression during Drake’s own performance at this year’s MTV VMAs. It looked to be an act of solidarity shown by Drizzy, but either way it will probably add to the child star’s newly polarizing teen image.
What could be harmful about Jaden’s tweets? For one, whether or not he accepts his responsibility as a public figure, he is one. Children and even teens do look up to and draw inspiration from the young star. So when he lambasts education, there are kids that will look at his statements as a call to action. Even more, the sentiments undermine Jaden’s talent.
Here’s how. To insinuate that other teens should drop out of school and they will be smarter, more successful or even “okay” because you’re all those things without school is grossly misleading. When encouraging the masses to do something it is imperative that you acknowledge that your situation is unique. The privilege of wealth, status, two parents, unlimited access to resources cannot be overlooked. Most young people look at their role models and think “if I work as hard as them I can make it too,” not realizing that there is a God given talent, luck and immense that drives the star machine.
Though you may argue, “Shouldn’t parents be their kids’ role models?” Of course. But this is also the era defined by “Honey Boo Boo” and pop culture is the center of our shared universe. And as the child of one of the biggest stars today, folks are listening to what someone like Jaden Smith has to say. So dismiss him as you will, as the spoiled rich kid, handed everything on a platinum platter. But the “consider the source argument” just doesn’t fly.
To judge him on his upbringing is as hypocritical as you accusing him of questioning yours. Though life experience is always a plus, people can still have knowledge of something they don’t do themselves. Look at ESPN’s charmingly nerdy football expert, John Clayton, who clearly does not know what it’s like to go toe-to-toe with 300lbs of pure muscle yet is still one of the network’s most trusted analysts. Jaden may not be right but should not be discredited based on his upbringing.
What good comes from such tweets? Discussion creates one of the most crucial components of education, perspective. Jaden has instigated a conversation. Even if his statements are drastic, they shed light on a subject that otherwise might not have been broached.
Much like Frank Zappa who once encouraged, “Drop out of school before your mind rots from our mediocre educational system,” Jaden Smith is bringing something to light that many people may not have known about: Old textbooks, unmotivated teachers, shorter school days/years and how all of the above effects present and future generations in a global economy.
As of right now it’s unclear exactly what motivated Jaden Smith to send those tweets. Were his intentions to encourage young people to literally quit school? Doubtful. Jaden comes from a good family and has never given anyone reason to believe that he’s anything but a nice kid. Whether it’s just teenage angst or a long-repressed sentiment that he just had to get out into the Twittersphere, Jaden Smith sparked a debate. And whether people think he’s a spoiled kid who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or they’re a fan of his, they should consider what he said and educate themselves on why it is or is not valid.