School's Out

Updated: Dec 27, 2019

Guest Blog by S.C. Mendes

“Men (people) are rarely aware of the real reasons which motivate their actions.”

Beyond inspiration for my journey into YA horror, this line from Edward Bernays's Propaganda is one of many quotes on the walls of my classroom. I tell myself these philosophical nuggets of wisdom get the students thinking, but who knows if that’s true. As I reflect back on my own high school years, it’s clear I didn’t put much thought into the origins of my actions. Perhaps I thought I knew my motivations; thought that every action I took was a desire born of my free will. An external expression of my unique individuality; the clothing I wore, the movies I watched, the music and friends I surrounded myself with. And to a degree, they were my choosing, especially since I had a somewhat decent understanding of marketing and how the mainstream masses were danced from one hip trend to another to the tune of huge corporate profit. After all, I’d seen They Live by senior year, so I could easily reject the system. I was a part of the great Southern Trend Kill; I was separate from the herd.

In truth though, being outside of the mainstream box only traps you inside a slightly bigger box; it does not mean you have broken free from the system. In fact, as long as a person is living in the earth dimension, I’m not sure they can ever break free entirely. Even a silent and celibate monk lives in a monastery that is subjected to the laws of the country in which it’s built.

The inability to sever completely from all society is not a bad thing though. And once you understand the laws that govern the universe, as well as our minds, you can use the knowledge to freely create any type of life you want—monk or millionaire and every lifestyle between and beyond. Decide what you want, use the laws to align yourself, and be willing to pay the price for the life you desire; it should be noted that the price does not always come in the form of money.

I’ve had some great discussions with Nikki about this topic of motivation and what causes humans to think and act as they do. She wrote an amazing blog about it last year, pointing out that, to an extent, everyone is in a cult and their actions are guided by the belief system of that cult. We were either born into one or we choose one as we aged. That’s why it’s called 'culture'. And each one of us has been brainwashed by our own cult.

Before explaining what all this has to do with our co-authored book, I should mention that 'brainwashed' wasn’t the best word choice actually. A more accurate description may be that we are born as human computers ready to download an operating system and begin life. The program we download is created through a mix of nature (genes), nurture (environment), and how we interpret the events of early childhood. This individualized program or paradigm is adapting and evolving every day for the first six or seven years of life, based on the data from everything we see, hear, and feel. And at this young age, we are unable to question the validity or usefulness of the data being input to the hard drive of our brain. Our neo-cortex isn't mature enough for the kind of logical evaluation that would require. Instead, our subconscious minds accept the data as absolute truth and integrates it into the child's perspective of life.

As the neo-cortex grows and logical thinking begins, this initial operating program slips deeper and deeper into the background, freeing up brain space so we can focus on learning new things; and of course, this new information is subconsciously judged and weighed against the absolute truth of our paradigm. Even though the paradigm is below a conscious level of awareness, it controls 90% of a human's actions and reactions in life. As we age, the program becomes us. Our life, our cult.

I may have oversimplified a bit in my analogy, but how much neural-plasticity science can you accurately explain in a 1,200-word blog? A better question to focus on is: do you know who or what programmed you? And if you don’t like the program, would you know how to wipe it clean and insert a new one? Furthermore, you may still be wondering what the hell all this has to do with that disturbing book cover.

Well...when I began to understand the true genius of the human brain and the motivation of my actions on many levels, the knowledge was life changing for me. As my life improved, I searched for ways to slip these concepts into my daily lesson plans for students. I thought why not. Schools are finally starting to recognize the benefit of teaching subjects like mindfulness, neural plasticity and the power of mental visualizations and positive affirmations. These subjects and many like it are designed to reprogram habits, faulty programs/paradigms locked deep in our subconscious; they’re designed to make a person happier and bring forth the life they desire. And isn’t that the goal of high school, prepare for the successful life you have chosen?

So, up went the quote from Edward Bernays as well as gems from Plato to Winnie the Pooh. I knew I couldn’t teach them anything, as Galileo once said. But perhaps I could guide them in finding the truth within themselves.

Now to The Lockdown... After the 2019-2020 school year, I am stepping away from public education. I make this attempt at retirement every few semesters only to give in and return for another contracted year—I’m still a slave to my own programming too. But this year it’s different; this time I'm really leaving. In the past I’ve feared that without my classroom, I wouldn’t be able to share the lessons I’ve learned. Now though, I realize I’m not losing my platform with teenagers when I leave teaching; it’s just transferring to my literary career. And The Lockdown will be my first course in fear aimed directly at teenagers. Nikki came up with the great line that it’s horror "strong enough for an adult, but made for a teen."

The short novel is about fear itself. It explores our brains, how thinking is molded on a subconscious level, and the horror that can unfold when this knowledge is used against people, either knowingly or unknowingly. It plays with concepts of social constructs and unseen methods—though hidden in plain sight—that guide all human actions. It’s about memetics and how fear can go viral in the instantaneous world of the internet. It’s why Joseph Goebbels explained that a lie repeated enough times will become the truth. “It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.”

Despite the front cover, there is NO school shooting in the book—though I have a feeling that this first edition cover will eventually be forced to go the way of the naked ladies artwork on The City—but like many aspects of life, the book will be intense and brutal. In The Lockdown a diabolical idea has germinated. Like a virus, it will spread across the student body of Courtland High School. From there, it will affect the community, then the state. And if left unchecked, there is no telling where its sphere of influence will end.

Nikki came on to the project this year and has assisted me in switching the main character from my original version to something I think will resonate with many more readers. Bernays said: “The public is not cognizant of the real value of education and does not realize that education as a social force is not receiving the kind of attention it has the right to expect in a democracy.” Maybe they’ll start to see the light after this.

Consider this the warning bell; class is about to start. Find your seats and grab your textbook!

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