Saturday, October 26, 2002

We don't need no education, a personal reminiscence.

OK, we all remember that song "Another Brick in the Wall" by Pink Floyd which was the band's only big single in their long career. It hit #1 on the singles chart in the week of March 22, 1980 and stayed there for four weeks. I remember it being a big hit among kids since kids pretty much hate school even those that enjoy it. We had no idea it was about the repressive English school system of the 40's and 50's. My experiences up to that point with the Catholic school I was in were mostly pretty positive. There were no big bullies and any scraps I had gotten into were my fault. When I did enter the public school system in my seventh grade year I was ahead academically and so far behind socially I couldn't see everyone else on the other side of the horizon. What's the point? The point is that Holy Rosary was a pretty secure, backwards and happy place.

My teacher at this time was Albin Tarsa. You can read his obituary here. He was a fine, caring and occasionally intimidating teacher. One of my most treasured memories of his classroom was the time he read the entire text of Don Quixote to us, a chapter at a time every day. I remember one day the discussion in class turned to the song by Pink Floyd that was climbing up the charts like a bullet and thrilling school children everywhere. Heck, it was even being sung on the bus. Not the whole thing, mostly that memorable chorus. I remember Mr. Tarsa did not like the song one bit. One day during the spring of 1980 the classroom discussion turned to "Another Brick in the Wall." Mr. Tarsa informed us authoritatively that the song was wrong. It angered him that we had been exposed to it. He knew we had all heard the tune and that we most likely liked it. I don't want to put words in the his mouth but the gist of his thoughts was that an education is priceless and almost reverential and he couldn't understand why these pop musicians would think otherwise. Why should they spread such views and corrupt children? I know he did not tell us not to listen to the song but I left that day knowing that Mr. Tarsa would prefer we didn't. There was no discussion about the song. We were lectured to and then the topic was dropped. I find his tactics interesting. No orders but also no opportunities to express dissent.

I find it interesting when I think back on how this 48 year old man and a 12 year old boy, me, completely missed the true meaning of this song. To me it gave an outlet to express simple frustration at being in school. It both emboldened and confused me. I didn't hate school but there were various times throughout a single day I didn't want to be there. All Mr. Tarsa heard was the chorus also. Looking back I am a little disappointed that he did not investigate the song a bit further. A cursory examination of the artist's intent would have revealed to him what the song really meant. Of course, I am sure it was a bit more difficult to research the intentions of pop musicians in 1980 than it is now. Perhaps he was unable to allow that a rock musician was able to use lyrics in a manner which allowed them to have meanings beyond the surface of the words. I just like that idea of the teacher and the student sitting in a classroom in northern Michigan, joined in ignorance as they were both equally confused by Pink Floyd and their only #1 song.

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