Education, a failed system, by Hal O’Leary

Education, a failed system, by Hal O’Leary



As a high school failure and a college drop-out, I proclaim myself qualified to comment on the educational system that failed me. I propose to point out the failings of a system designed not to educate, but to indoctrinate. Having had to spend thirteen years instead of the requisite twelve to escape school, it was only by the grace of the WWII draft, three years of active duty and two combat medals, that I was able to apply for admission to West Liberty State College. Dean Jessie Pugh took one look at my high school transcripts and said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” I said, “No, you have to take me.” The Dean’s response, “Yes, but we don’t have to keep you.” And they didn’t.

At the end of my sophomore year, I concluded that college was nothing more than an extension of the high school and the society that failed me. They failed me in their insistence that I should become, not what I could or should be, but what they would have me be, a dutiful citizen who would adapt himself to the needs of their society. This I believe.

The problem was that, in their society, there was little call or reward for the unique and specific talents I had to offer. I speak generally of the arts. While most all the focus in the present system Is on the intellectual needs of the student and, precious little attention is given to the equally important emotional needs. It is my contention that the neglect of these needs has produced a neurotic society in which the uniqueness of the individual is sacrificed to the needs of that society. The great irony is that a society that champions “the rugged individualist”, in most subtle fashion forces him to conform. Philosophically we have it backwards. The proper educational system in a proper society, should address the needs of the individual and not the other way round.

Falling teacher

Falling teacher

It may be interesting to note that in spite of the system and after failure after failure as a salesman, my life did indeed begin at forty. Fortunate for an arts Institute and myself, I was finally hired to do the one thing I was meant to do, develop a theatre program which I did, and for the next forty-five years I remained as its Artistic Director. During that time I spent eight years teaching at Bethany College without even a bachelor’s degree. This was in addition to my duties at the theatre. I was subsequently inducted into the Wheeling (WV) Hall of Fame for my contributions to the arts, and irony of ironies, I was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by the same college (now University) from which I had dropped out. Some of us may be fortunate enough to beat the system, but all too many are not.

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Hal O’Leary is an eighty-seven-year-old Secular Humanist who believes that it is only through the arts that one is afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. He has been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from West Liberty University.

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