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Another Brick in the Wall (Pink Floyd)

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When I first heard this song, written by Roger Waters, I thought he was suggesting that children were being shaped and molded by public education into anonymous bricks to be set in the walls of society, where the elites wanted them to be. Set in place, and kept in place, never moving up, their position set for life. According to accounts that I’ve read, what he was really talking about was how he built up a wall around himself, separating him from reality, and that his school teacher was just another brick in the wall. The walls built up by children in today’s society are primarily composed of bricks from the education system, or from the consequences of the education system such as bullying, peer pressure, and materialism over achievement or compassion.

The imagery in the video is remarkable and runs more in line with my initial interpretation of the song. It starts out with a boy watching a train pass by, filled with humans as if they were cattle. And apt analogy considering the way that our public education system treats children – as livestock to be controlled, fed, and pushed along through life until they come out the other end, ready to be consumed by society. The faces of the children in the boxcar are covered with masks, representing a complete lack of individuality, almost a lack of humanity. The scene brings to mind the image of boxcars filled with Jews being sent to concentration camps for extermination, or of our own youth being sent to the public school system which will result in the extermination of creativity, intellectual vitality, independence and entrepreneurship.

Next, we see the teachers in their teachers’ lounge, buffered from the children that they are in charge of. When the bell rings, as if it is a Pavlovian response, they gather their things, adjust their attire, and move off toward their individual feudal empires.

The video then turns to a scene which strikes at the heart of most of those who have been subject to formal education – one of bullying and ridicule. The teacher humiliates the student in front of the class, as the class laughs at the bullying victim on cue, taking their lead from the heartless teacher. The teacher, who is a bully at school, is a meek and cowardly man who is bullied by his wife at home. The interspersed images of the teacher beating his students represents a man who is a failure in his own life taking out his frustration on the children that he is supposed to take care of. Former bullying victims often turn into future public servant bullies, whether it is a cop who forgot that his job was to serve and protect and spends his days harassing minorities, a postal clerk snapping at customers who have spent their lunch breaks waiting in line, or a politician demanding deference from the people whose money they plan to spend.

The school becomes a factory with children marching obediently in unison, into a room and coming out on a conveyor belt, seated at school desks with masks to hide their unique individuality. The bully teacher is seen standing over the marching children, less as an enabler of learning, and more as a prison warden controlling the lives of the children in his charge. He can be heard screaming “wrong, do it again” along with other rants meant to control, demean and hurt the children.

The scene eventually turns back to the faceless children going down the conveyor belt and falling into a meat grinder, processing children into indistinguishable meat – which is the effective result of the public education system. Creating not bricks to build up society, but a shapeless, worthless, jumbled up mass of unidentifiable meat which is served up for society to consume, but which provides questionable benefit to society, and negative value to the children who were sacrificed to the meat grinder.

Eventually the kids rip off their masks and rebel against the system. They strip out of their standard uniforms and begin tearing apart their gulag, their school. They celebrate as they set this evil institution aflame, and march their bully teacher toward the flames.

But alas, the abused child was only daydreaming about breaking free of the system through rebellion. In reality, kids cannot rebel without significant damage done to their lives by virtue of a system of disciplinary and academic penalties. Herein lies my only disappointment with the video (besides the double negative in the chorus), it does well to highlight the misery and destructive nature of formal schooling, but it doesn’t provide an out for the children. The reality is that the only people who can rebel are the parents. They can rebel by pulling their kids out of the system, and giving them a real education at home.

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teacher leave them kids alone
Hey teacher leave us kids alone
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall

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4 Responses to " Another Brick in the Wall (Pink Floyd) "

  1. LC says:

    I agree with your interpretation, Antonio, and I don’t know if the songwriter would actually admit to the real message in the song. It’s a pretty bold song for the times, and it was probably better for him to just let people hear the song without actually telling them the truth. People don’t seem to like hearing the truth.

    • Antonio Buehler says:

      Imagine the change that could be effected if musicians would really take on the real problems of our society today – as opposed to singing about one night stands and supporting Presidential candidates because it is “cool”?

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