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Factory School

Kudos to Dr. Jeremy Morrow, superintendent of our local school district, for inspiring this essay. Dr. Morrow is not responsible for anything Tamias writes or says or does, ever. All he did was say at a meeting, if only half the "school-age" kids on the island are enrolled at the school, he wants to know why. Tamias had some answers, which didn't entirely fit into the format of the meeting, so here they are --- well, some of them:


There's something relaxing about following instructions, having one's day scheduled, planned and facilitated by someone else. It's relaxing in the same way that screen time is relaxing. After a few years of not being allowed to think for oneself, it can be difficult to face the openness, the freedom and the responsibility of choice.

In factory school, even when kids are invited to set their own goals, teachers structure the goal-setting process with leading questions, and then hold kids to their stated goals rather than allowing spontaneous exploration. Approval or disapproval is then offered as the ultimate outcome that's seen as more important than the process itself.

Factory school is teaching kids that they're not responsible for anything outside the curriculum, or for choosing what is inside or outside the curriculum. The path is clear, the authorities have condoned it, there's no need to think about what's important and what's not.

There's a basic human responsibility that's lost there, trained out of existence.

Lots of things can be addictive. In my early teens, I got addicted to jigsaw puzzles. Novels are another one, for those of us who read easily.

Perhaps it's time to get into...

Types of Fun

... and what they mean to Tamias.

Types of fun were explained to me like this:

"Type 1 fun, while it's happening, you're like, "This is pleasant," and afterwards, you're like, "That was pleasant." Type 2 fun is where, while it's happening, you're like, "This is awful, I never want to do this again," and afterwards, you're like, "That was so fun! I want to do that again!" An example of Type 1 fun is eating a nice meal. An example of Type 2 fun is swimming briefly in freezing cold ocean water.

"With Type 3 fun, while it's happening, you're like, "This is awful, I never want to do this again," and afterwards, you're like, "That was awful. I never want to do that again. That was so fun.""

I remember saying at the time that I wasn't sure I understood Type 3. My friend answered, "Oh, Type 3 fun is the best kind of fun." In retrospect, that was the year after my Ghost Story happened. I'd already been immersed in the realm of Type 3 fun.

Over the next few years, I and the person who'd explained these types of fun to me each independently encountered what we'd call Type 4 fun. It wasn't the same thing at all, though, so I've upgraded my experience to Type 5. I defined a difference between Type 3 and Type 4: If I'm excited to tell the story the next day, I'm already thinking of it as a kind of fun, and that's Type 3. After an experience of Type 4 fun, I might hesitate to tell the story at all. I've learned to be very careful about when and how I tell it, and to whom. I might say, think and deeply feel, "That was not fun." Months or years later, I might see how life is more fun overall when such experiences happen ... occasionally. Not every year.

I think major inititations, such as traditional initiations into adulthood, may be a kind of facilitated Type 4 fun. The kind of initiations offered in modern times on a professional basis, outside of a tribal context, to people who don't have the tribal connections and didn't grow up in an intact culture, are not the same thing.

Type 5 fun is my cutting edge, I'm not sure what I believe about it. It's the kind of experience that I wouldn't wish on anyone, ever, ever, ever at all ever. And yet, with enough perspective, I can see how life is more fun for everyone when such experiences are possible ... and happen ... but not to everyone. Not every lifetime.

Okay, back to addiction, and factory school. The pattern I wanted to show there is of higher number types of fun being more impactful in the long term. They're less pleasant while they're happening, more stressful, take substanitally longer to integrate, and I intuitively want them less often than lower number types, but eventually I see value in them.

Addiction is Type 0.

While I'm doing something mildly addictive, like working on my website, I think, "This is pleasant." I can go on thinking that for hours. When I turn the screen off and face offline reality, I immediately feel awful. Screen time and written words definitely have an addictive effect on Tamias. My best way of reducing my screen time is to do most of my writing by hand, but there's still plenty of coding, learning to code and design work that I end up doing at the computer.

When I stop doing an addictive thing like typing, I want to go back to it not because it was satisfying, but because it was so unsatisfying that I'd rather distract myself with it than face my realizations about how unsatisfying it was.

What's addictive about factory school? The external validation and invalidation? Those arbitrary judgements called "marks?" Gambling on a multiple-choice question one is unsure about? The constant but meaningless mental engagement? The absence of physical challenge? The absence of emotional challenge? The selfish ideal of competing for approval? The sensory deprivation? What's not addictive about factory school?


I started school at the age of 14. It was a Francophone school, and I didn't speak French. I learned to read, write and speak French, I learned the meaning of the word hate, and I learned a bit about trauma. It wasn't very useful learning about trauma, just an experiential introduction to "Stockholm syndrome." I also learned a little bit about myopia, short-sightedness.

I was a "good" student who sat in the front of the class and looked at the teacher, largely because I was struggling to understand what they were saying. I didn't turn around to interact with other students, because their dialect was unintelligible to me. The teachers spoke much more clearly. In April, after six months of school, I got a real scare when I left the school building at the end of the day and my eyes couldn't focus on anything far away from me. By the time I got home, about a ten-minute walk, I could see distant trees and buildings clearly again. The same thing happened more days than not for the rest of the school year, but it's never happened since.

Both my parents are short-sighted. They both went to public school. None of my siblings are short-sighted. We were all unschooled and we went for a hike every day until the year I was 14.

When I experimented with college a few years later, I sat in the back of the class, in a different seat each week, or on the floor. It took my profs a while to get used to me. My classes never kept me indoors for a whole day, there was always a break and I made a point of going outside and looking at things far away from me.


I feel concerned about ageism in general, and especially as it's expressed in schools. A major background message of school says that a good kid is one who studies what adults tell him to study, so he can get good marks, so he can get into university, so he can get a good job, so he can retire on a good pension. That invalidates childhood as a lived experience. I'd rather say, all life stages are valid and each has its place, what adults are doing matters, but what children will do (or realistically, might do) as adults doesn't matter as much as what they're doing as children.

I'll conclude with a thought experiment about ageism:

Think of an oppressed group you'd definitely speak up for, given the right opportunity. It might be women, queer people, or people who follow a minority religion. In my social circle, Indigenous people are often recognized as a group that could use a little more respect.

Now, imagine an ordinary high school classroom. Replace all the students with Indigenous people (or whatever group you recognize as oppressed) and the teacher with a white person (or whoever you see as privileged.) The Indigenous people spend six hours a day sitting and listening to the white person, who stands at the front of the room, teaching them how to be white.

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Factory School by Tamias Nettle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.