Institutionalized by Anna Rogers
Featured in The Coup: Ode, Vol. 33 (2015)
Educational institutions do not hesitate to tell you that knowledge is power, although they do not always express it using those three words. They tell you knowledge is power by using posters that line a professor’s wall, by passing out pamphlets about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, imploring student to make the “smart” choice. They tell you knowledge is power in statistics of unemployment, in lists of “useful” degrees, in six figure salaries, in medals, trophies, and Nobel prizes.
They will tell you that knowledge is power in history class, as you learn about the great triumphs and failures of the past: they will tell you in power points discussing the importance of standardized language during the Qin Dynasty. They will tell you in the glory of Ancient Egypt, in the mathematics of the pyramids and the science of Egyptian medicines and mummification. They will tell you that knowledge is power as they explain the intellectual discoveries of India’s Golden Age, as they explain the scholars who invented types of algebra, the concept of zero, and approximations of the value of pi. They will tell you knowledge is power using the words of the Greek: as you read the Iliad, the Odyssey, and accounts of the Council, and as you discuss the importance of Athenian Democracy. They will tell you knowledge is power when they teach The Roman Empire, as they attempt to purvey the massiveness of the Coliseum, the engineering successes of Roman roadways, arches, and bathhouses. They will tell you knowledge is power as they explain the inter workings of the Roman forum, and as they identify modern instances of enduring Greco-Roman Classical antiquity.
They will tell you knowledge is power when they lecture on the Fall, the terrible Fall of the great Roman Empire, and on the beginning of the Middle Ages, a time shortly after where education was restricted to monks and popes. They will tell you knowledge is power in the tone of their lecture, in the way they mourn the Middle Ages, grinding their teeth and weeping at the absence and ignorance of knowledge, an absence which endured an entire millennia.
They will tell you knowledge is power in their jubilation to introduce The Renaissance, in the ecstasy of new ideas, modern sciences, art and architectural genius. They will tell you knowledge is power in the sculptures and paintings of da Vinci, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael, and they will tell you through the writings of Dante, Shakespeare, and Machiavelli. They will tell you knowledge is power through the musings of Copernicus, Bacon, and Boyle, through the experiments of Galileo, through the voyages of Cartier, Columbus, Champlain, Cortes, Hudson, Magellan, and Pizarro. And they will tell you knowledge is power through a cartographer called Vespucci, through the mistakes of Napoleon and Adolf Hitler, the latter which remembered the outcome of the former’s invasion of Russia a winter too late.
They will tell you knowledge is power in the lunch line, in the glaring silver tubs from which the lunch ladies serve limp french fries and crumbly bits of cake. And when you opt to get an apple instead of fries or cake, they will tell you knowledge is power, because it was in health class that you were warned of the effects of high sodium and sugar intakes.
They will tell you knowledge is power in the hallways, in the absent and tardy policies of the student handbook, and in the counselors’ offices, where you meet with your counselor, who today sports a fallen face and a heavy conscious. When you ask, she quickly rearranges her features to appear less bereaved, although she admits that she is disappointed because she just has met with a bright young man. The young man informed her that he did not want to attend college. “Why doesn’t he want to attend college? Doesn’t he know that knowledge is power?”, the thought is etched, like names on a tombstone, into the fine lines around her mouth and eyes. You respond quietly and appropriately, but not without hiding a sad, understanding smile for the bright young man.
Yes: they tell you that knowledge is power. But what they never tell you is that power often comes at the price of pain.
Your ignorance is a piece of marble, and knowledge is a chisel, and that which delivers the knowledge is a mallet. With each blow from the mallet, the chisel hits, chipping away flecks of marble. Once the marble has been chipped away, you can see the reality of its existence in the form of a dust pile. Perhaps, if you are lucky, you will even be able to remember the marble’s original form. But you can never take the flakes and put them back to the marble to make it perfectly whole again, even if you remember where every piece belongs. The flakes are too small, too pulverized.
To be knowledgeable is to be powerful, educated, and understanding. But to be this way will always cost you. The price of knowledge is your ignorance.