Archive for February, 2007

The Indoctrination of America’s Schoolchildren (or, the dumbing down of America’s kids, for you not-so-bright folk)

Feb 27, 2007 in Current Events

I’ve long wondered why it seems that a significant percentage of people (especially — but not exclusively — in America) seem content to live in sheepish ignorance — uncritical, unthinking and accepting of any line of bullshit promulgated by the government, the media and the corporations.

Perhaps John Taylor Gatto (Wikipedia link) has the answer. A public school teacher for almost 30 years, he won numerous awards and was named New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. Later that year he quit teaching, explaining his rationale in an essay published in the Wall Street Journal: “If you hear of a job where I don’t have to hurt kids to make a living, let me know.”

He later became a public speaker, railing against the public education system in America. He has written several books, including An Underground History of American Education, a damning indictment of public education and its effect on our society. A pre-publication edition of the full book is available to read on his website.

If you’re not inclined to read the entire book, I suggest you read the Prologue and Chapter 2. Both offer a eye-opening overview of the problems with compulsory education.

In brief, Gatto makes the case that modern public education is a product of the Industrial Revolution, an enterprise primarily designed to mold subservient and obedient workers and consumers. Through discipline, boredom, irrelevant subject matter and a brutal social hierarchy, the modern public education system strives to strip creativity, inquisitiveness, individuality and self-worth from children — churning out a broad social class of undereducated workers and consumers who will not question their social condition.

Sounds like hyperbole or exaggeration? Check out these quotes from some of the architects of the modern educational process:

‘The gigantic Behavioral Science Teacher Education Project, outlined teaching reforms to be forced on the country after 1967… The document sets out clearly the intentions of its creators—nothing less than “impersonal manipulation” through schooling of a future America in which “few will be able to maintain control over their opinions,” an America in which “each individual receives at birth a multi-purpose identification number” which enables employers and other controllers to keep track of underlings and to expose them to direct or subliminal influence when necessary. Readers learned that “chemical experimentation” on minors would be normal procedure in this post-1967 world, a pointed foreshadowing of the massive Ritalin interventions which now accompany the practice of forced schooling.

‘The Behavioral Science Teacher Education Project identified the future as one “in which a small elite” will control all important matters, one where participatory democracy will largely disappear. Children are made to see, through school experiences, that their classmates are so cruel and irresponsible, so inadequate to the task of self-discipline, and so ignorant they need to be controlled and regulated for society’s good.’

“In our dreams…people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [intellectual and character education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple…we will organize children…and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.”
General Education Board - Occasional Letter Number One, 1906

“What we’re into is total restructuring of society.” Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory, 1989

“We must continue to produce an uneducated social class.” Gerald Bracey, 1989

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Gatto’s not the only voice decrying the manipulation of our educational system. Charlotte Iserbyt, formerly of the U.S. Dept. of Education, wrote The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America (available online as a free PDF), a whistleblowing expose of Reagan-era educational policies. Parents who have opted to home or private school their children and even many educators can opine in depth on the sorry state of public education.

A reading of Gatto’s analysis produces this significant implication: Our public educational system, in all its bureaucracy, dysfunction and violence, is not an accident. Rather, it is by design. I’m not the type to believe in conspiracy theories — the idea that a small powerful, elite is manipulating our society to selfish ends. But I can’t help but wonder whether this is in fact happening.

The Bush tax cuts, the widening income gap, the high poverty rate, the unsure and fearful working and middle class whose lot has not improved despite recent economic successes: Someone is gaining from this, and it certainly isn’t us.

The most powerful democracy in the world has failed — perhaps intentionally — to produce citizens who are informed enough to participate in a representative democracy. If the better part of the American population were educated enough to think critically, would we have had George W. Bush, the Iraq War, and more people voting for the next American Idol than the president? I think not.