"Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget bout the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you’ve got any guts. Some of you like pep rallies and plastic robots who tell you what to read. Forget I mentioned it. This song has no message. Rise for the flag salute." - Frank Zappa in the liner notes of Hungry Freaks Daddy
Though Zappa valued education he was always very critical of the education system, particularly in the United States.
"I liked school a lot better than school liked me. They kept throwing me out. One day I got tired and tried to drop out of high school but then they wouldn't let me – sure did make me mad!" - Frank Zappa in The Fanzine Questionnaire
I heard you talking about UCLA. Did you go to college?
ZAPPA: "No. I dropped out of junior college after one semester."
So you're a self-educated man; but then, everybody's a self-educated man.
ZAPPA: "It's almost like college was invented by Madison Avenue so that after you've gone for a certain number of years and spent a certain amount of money on products which they're helping to sell to you, you'll get a piece of paper that says you're educated. That's definitely where it's at; and all you have to do is teach in one to find that out. Nobody's interested in getting an education in college – they're simply interested in getting out. That might not be true at Harvard – there may be a few freaks around at the top schools who really want to learn something. But if you go out in the provinces, like the University of Pittsburgh, forget it.'
(Quoted from Frank Kofsky interviews FZ)
Street: Do you think it's necessary to have a college education to survive in today's society? Zappa: It's probably a detriment.
Street: For what reason? Zappa: Well, the only real reason for going to college is maybe you can go there and marry somebody who's got some money already. But if you want to go out and earn a living, the best thing you can do is get out of high school and get a goddamn job. Because all the degrees in the world aren't really gonna help you. You got people with fucking degrees in all kinds of stuff who wind up working in professions that require little or no education and here they spent thousands of dollars on getting it. And how does our society reward them? With dogshit.
(Quoted from Phi Zappa Crappa Interview:)
Don't you have some sort of music degree? Zappa: I don't have any degrees at all. I'm fortunate to have a high school diploma. I tried hard enough to get out of going to high school, but they graduated me anyway. I had about 20 or 30 units less than you were supposed to have to graduate. They kept throwing me out, so I never made up the work. So they just decided to graduate me, rather than keep me there another year.
Aren't you glad, considering all the bullshit you have to go through in high school? Zappa:Yeah. High school was a wonderful preparation for life in a factory. That's all it is. Either they prepare you to be a consumer, or to be somebody who puts front bumpers on Chevrolets.
What about college? Zappa:It's the same thing. The best thing about college is you can get laid. You can get laid in high school, too, these days if you're lucky. But in high school, it is a bit tougher. The only thing that is really useful about college is that it's a good place for people to get together and go off and build their little lives together. Because if you didn't go to college, or some other place where there's a high concentration of like-minded people, you'd wind up spending all your time in bars.
(Quoted from Frank Zappa's Got Brand New Shoes)
Do you have some ideas about how to influence kids and get these kinds of concepts into the school system?
Zappa: No. In the Soviet Union you might be able to sell them an educational package. In the United States you've got a big problem. Kids don't learn in school; they learn from records or from watching TV or they learn from the street. Which is the real reason why some people are trying to put the lid on rock 'n roll and on speech in concerts. Because if they can enact legislation that clamps down on everything in the world of rock 'n roll, there will be no transmission of any politically controversial material.
(Quoted from Zappa!, 1990)
ZAPPA: Because in a way, I would agree with George Bush in that education in America needs to be reinvented, but certainly not in the way he would imagine it. Because the biggest problem we're facing right now is that education needs to be imparted to a post-literate generation. People who have no feeling whatsoever for a book or any data on a printed page, which should be worrisome to anyone who publishes a magazine.
ZAPPA: And if you have to teach people basic things that they will need in order to function normally, forget about achieving greatness, or even competing with Japan and Germany. Just to function, how are you going to do it if people can't read, refuse to read, and are so adapted to receiving data from optical and audio sources. I think you have to meet them halfway and install equipment into classrooms that are going to be able to deliver data into the language that the kids already understand. Costs money. And when you've got a state like California, with such a huge educational system willing to take up the twelve billion dollar deficit out of the schools, it also tells you something about the parents that would allow that to happen. Because obviously the parents don't give a fuck, 'cause they didn't enjoy school that much themselves. And giving the choice between paying more taxes and just hoping that it gets better and letting the "education President" take care of it, I mean, everybody is sticking their head in the sand.
Do you think somewhere along the line, it serves the powers that be, the pervading government for the last ten years, to have education dilapidate to where people don't think enough to really challenge?
ZAPPA: No question. I don't think it's any accident that the educational system in America has been brought to its current state. Because only a totally uneducated mass of people will be baffled by balloons. And yellow ribbons andlittle flags and buzz words and guys saying "new world order" and shit like that, I mean, only a person who has been dissuaded from any kind of critical thinking and doesn't know geography, doesn't know the English language – I mean if you can't speak English, then this stuff works on you.
One of the things that was taken out of the curriculum was civics. Civics was a class that used to be required before you could graduate from high school. You were taught what was in the U.S. Constitution. And after all the student rebellions in the '60s, civics was banished from the student curriculum and was replaced by something called social studies. Here we live in a country that has a fabulous constitution and all these guarantees, a contract between the citizens and the government – nobody knows what's in it. It's one of the best kept secrets. And so, if you don't know what your rights are, how can you stand up for them? And furthermore, if you don't know what is in that document, how can you care if someone is shredding it? (Quoted from Signs Of The Times, 1991)
Is there rhyme or reason behind the subjects you choose to attack?
Zappa: Whatever I'm mad at at the time. I like things that work. If something doesn't, the first question you have to ask is, 'Why?' If it's not working and you know why, then you have to ask, "Why isn't somebody doing something about it?" The government, for starters. Most institutions. The nation's education system is completely fucked up.
Fucked up how?
Zappa: The schools are worthless because the books are worthless. They still are on the level of George Washington and the cherry tree and "I cannot tell a lie." The books have all been bowdlerized by committees responding to pressure from right-wing groups to make every aspect of the history books consistent with the cryptofascist view-point. When you send your kids to school, that's what they're dealing with. Your children are being presented with these documents, part of a multibillion-dollar industry, which are absolutely fraudulent. Kids' heads are crammed with so many nonfacts that when they get out of school they're totally unprepared to do anything. They can't read, they can't write, they can't think. Talk about child abuse. The U.S. school system as a whole qualifies.
Did you find alternative schools for your kids?
Zappa:In California you can take your kids out of school at 15 if they can pass the equivalency test, so the first three have escaped. Diva still has a couple of years to go.
Before they escaped, how did you deal with it?
Zappa: We had them in public school and private school, back and forth, trying to find the best possible education that we could get for them.
Regardless of what they learned at school, they certainly must get an education around here.
Zappa:There definitely is a little stimulation around here. They meet a lot of people from all over the world and of all different nationalities and races and business backgrounds. The kids aren't shoveled into a room.
Did the perspective you gave them prepare them for those bad schools?
Zappa:It caused them trouble, because when they compared what qualifies as the real world here in this house with what they experienced as the real world in school, it was very different. Sometimes their friends think they're weird. On the other hand, their friends like to spend the night over here.
Were the teachers horrified?
Zappa: Some of them. They had a few teachers who were great. One could have taught a couch to read. She was fired because she wasn't Mexican. The school had an ethnic quota, and she was out.
(Quoted from Frank Zappa. Interview in Playboy, 1993.)
So, another way of trying to get people to believe that all time exists now is trying to get them to have an open mind, open senses, to not filter data that's coming in. It's the same thing.
Zappa: You've just got to listen to all the stuff that's coming in, good, bad, and indifferent. And hope that you have the educational preparation to be able to sort it. That's one of the problems why people would find what I do difficult for them to adapt to because I got out of the U.S. schoolsystem at a point where you could still learn to readand write, and I don't think that you can do that anymore. I think that the basic education that people receive in this country is so pitiful that they can't. They're not even equipped to sort data. And I don't think it's an accident. I think that the school system has been purposely damaged to keep people from being able to sort data because only a person who can't data will vote for a guy like Bush or Reagan. You have to be numb.
You have to be numb and at the same time, while they're making the school system impoverished, they are increasing the information flood on people with cable, the multi-channels, and fiberoptics. This is the ...
Zappa: More dread.
Yeah. So, maybe someone could overcome the stupidity that's been trained into them?
Zappa: I think it's possible, but it's just too expensive. And there's a lot of people who would say, "I don't want to know. I just don't want to know". And perhaps more than fifty percent in the U.S. prefer not to know. They have a suspicion that if they knew, they would be unhappy because they knew, and they will go to any extreme to keep themselves from knowing. In fact, they will even attempt to harm people who will help to let them know.
And that's our problem.
Zappa: That's one of them, yeah.
(Interview by Bob Marshall, 1988)
ZAPPA: Well, the problem with the youth market is the fact that they go to U.S. schools. And the United States' school system has been turned into a kind of assembly line for really ignorant little consumer clones. I was lucky. I got out of school back when they were still teaching kids to read and write. The market you're talking about now is basically people who can't spell, can't count, don't know anything about economics and think the most important thing in the world is dressing properly and having a party. So your guess is as good as mine as to what sort of music will fulfill the emotional needs of those people. I just think they've been cheated by the government. They're talking about yet another budget cut for education. And things are ugly enough already.
So I suppose they'll just buy into whatever type of music is advertised best.
ZAPPA: Yeah, well, what they're being taught in school is how to respond to advertising. The enemy of advertising is logic. Anybody with logic or common sense has got to look at what you see on television and say, "This is bullshit." But nobody is providing these kids with the criteria by which to judge between anything with any quality, or even to help them spot bullshit. They just don't know. They come into the whole thing completely unprepared for the tricks that are being played on them by the car companies and everybody else. They're just being used. It's really not fair.
(Quoted from Dynamo Frank, 2003)
References to school and education
- Hungry Freaks, Daddy: "Mister America, walk on by! Your schools that do not teach."
- Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder: "I gave you my high school ring at the root beer stand."
- Status Back Baby: "I'm losin' status at the high school. I used to think that it was my school (...) My high school status is at an all time low."
- Certain photographed people on Zappa's album cover for We're Only In It For The Money are taken from his high school yearbook.
- Let's Make The Water Turn Black: "We see them after school in a world of their own."
- The intro to God Bless America goes as follows: "Here's one with your fathers moustache, the old cookie jar, rubbers, sneakers, galoshes, belt buckles, and book covers with the name of your high school neatly imprinted in crimson and gold on the front cover with a picture of the goal post and last years queen."
- Brown Shoes Don't Make It: "Quit school! Why fake it? (...) Got another year of school. You're okay. He's too weird. (...) Be a loyal plastic robot for a world that doesn't care. (...) TV dinner by the pool. I'm so glad I finished school."
- Penis Dimension: "You can console yourself with this age-old line from primary school."
- Dirty Love: "I'll ignore your cheap aroma and your little bo-beep diploma."
- Dummy Up: A high school diploma, stuffed with a gym sock, is smoked. Zappa also says: "A true Zen saying: Nothing is what I want... The results of a higher education!"
- Wind Up Workin' In A Gas Station: "You oughta to know now from all your education: well you know now: you're gonna wind up workin' in a gas station."
- Bobby Brown Goes Down: "Here I am at a famous school. I'm dressing sharp and I'm acting cool. Got a cheerleader here wants to help with my paper. Let her do all the work and maybe later I'll rape her."
- The album Joe's Garage is described in the liner notes as "a really cheap kind of high school play."
- Jesus Thinks You're A Jerk: "'Cause some folks don't want prayer in school!"
- Conehead: "At the drivin' school"
- Valley Girl: "Like my English teacher. He's like..."
- Fine Girl: "Oh yeah, she was a fine girl (...) didn't need no school."
- Yo Cats: "You've been to the Berkely school."
- Night School was a project voor a late-night TV show, intended to provide the audience with topical information about current events.
- Charva: "I loved you since in grammar school, when we were sniffin' glue."