Home > Comedy and Satire, Entertainment and Media, Politics, Satire, Social and Political Satire, Social Issues > Learning to Aim Low: the Flea Circus of American Education

Learning to Aim Low: the Flea Circus of American Education


Can You Jump High Enough to Escape the Jar of Your Confinement

By Joe Bodolai © 2011, All rights reserved

I heard a “poem” read by a Chicagoan named Roger Bonair-Agard in which he shared some research he had done about how fleas were used in popular entertainment, usually at traveling fairs about a century ago. He mainly used this research to support his remarks about certain amusements of white people and a political analysis stemming from that metaphor.[1] Fleas, according to the poet, can pull over 100 times their body weight with their disproportionately strong legs. But the most amazing fact I learned from his work is that fleas, upon being confined in a jar for three days, will never again in their lives attempt to jump higher than the lid of the jar of their glass prison.  He added, “neither will their offspring.”[2]

Education: Training Performers for the Great American Flea Circus?

This confinement and likely frustration, pain, or hard-earned knowledge, trained them to never be able to escape and, perhaps more interestingly, not willing or able to try. It made the amusements of their captor able to be confined to an easily contained area. More importantly, this “training” seems to have created a hereditary lack of ambition, or at least learned behavior handed down.

It also sparked me into thought about American education. Since my descent into closer-than-I’d like proximity with the material and psychological ghetto of the American underclass, I have spent time volunteering as a GED tutor. Some of my students are felons on parole, current and former drug addicts and dealers, gang bangers, and a few just plain nice people. I lose students from time to time due to return to old ways or, in one particularly horrible case, being shot nine times. From this experience, I have learned just how truly astounding some of what people in these circumstances have not learned or, worse, what they have made up or guessed along the way. From my first-hand experience, this includes:

  • World War I is also known as the Vietnam War, in which “we kicked ass.”
  • Europe is a big place on the map and is located under… well, Europe. We usually call this “Africa”.
  • Hitler was a Muslim. (Mission accomplished, JDL.)
  • And, from practical retail experience, an ounce is also 28 grams.
No Need for Reading, Math with Pictures on the Keys!

Now I could think of this simply as a lack of education and I would be correct. Why and how is such a widespread lack of education in America possible? And what are its effects on society and the future? These are serious issues that I am probably “not qualified” to answer, so I will. I don’t need “qualifications” bestowed upon me from such advocates of the privatization and monetization of public education. Children are not a “human resource” or “human capital”. Yet, it seems that American education is creating a lumpenproletariat of indentured ignorant servitude. These new workers are ignorant of not only basic reading, writing, and math, but more importantly, of curiosity, skepticism, and ambition. Those are three values that once did allow an American dream to exist.

One need only to go into any fast food “store” today to see that cash registers have had their number keys replaced with words or even pictures of the menu items. Instead of needing to count out change when one is presented with a five-dollar bill for an order of $4.37, an automatic change chute slides the coins out.

My experience as a well-educated professional seeking some sort of meaningful employment is informative and eye-opening at least to me.

While the average uneducated unemployed young man or woman could easily score in the 99th percentile of those being able to

The Bronte Sisters of Vulgarity

correctly name all the Kardashians, this has not been traditionally the kind of marketable job skill that once did make American industry, service, and innovation the best in the world. Regrettably, what was once mere trivia is now  a kind of knowledge which all too well serves the new breed of what used to be called “journalist” whose “career” working as a Jagermeister promo rep precisely requires advanced degrees in Kardashianality. In other words, American capitalism is reaching an apotheosis whereby American work is only valuable as marketing and actual creation of goods is left to the other Third World. Oh, and for those idealists who aspire to a “writing” job, there are many available on craigslist, offering the illusion of being able to be close enough to get a whiff of a celebrity fragrance. If one does not appreciate the nuances of the job descriptions, “writer” is a volunteer activity in the service of anyone who successfully fishes them in. The writer is clearly one rung below “intern”. Writers will be rewarded with their “own byline” (!) and “exposure”.

Where are the young people who actually question the assumptions that guide the forces that control their lives? If you are one of them, let me know. I have a lot more to say about this and I feel that I should be funny at least in part of this. I can’t, however, when I see what is around me, the eager sheep following the Judas goat of media to the lamb kebab factory.

The fleas are in the jar. The trainers have them right where they want them. Here’s some amusing colored toxic balls to juggle. Enjoy the show!


[1] The audio of this may be found at the excellent site of Chicago Public Media, home of such outstanding radio as This American Life and Dynamic Range, where I heard the podcast. I’d be more specific but I’m busy typing this. You’ve got the internet, look it up.

[2] He also explained that the fleas’ so-called trained antics, such as playing tiny drums or with balls (soaked in camphor) were really their desperate attempts to survive such chemicals or fatal temperatures, resulting in amusing writhing. This makes wonderful cocktail party conversation (especially for us white people) so check him out somewhere on that site. Later.

  1. Bingshang Mackahooney
    February 7, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    Now this is an essay. When I read hand me a jar of fleas, usher me into a Kardashian classroom and reward me with lamb kebabs. I want to travel through something that’s got an unpredictable payoff.

  2. susan
    February 9, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    fascinating, about the fleas! I always wondered how they did that. I usually have a goodly supply of the little buggers in the summer time with two cats at home. Thanks for not going after the teachers–how refreshing!

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