An Educated Populace

My kids’ history book attributes this to Plato, “A democracy had to have an educated people in it.”  The authors left out that Plato didn’t really like democracy, but this book was written for young kids, and as such,  it can’t really go into detail about political philosophy.  The book is an overview, more or less.

Since it is just an overview, I was dismayed that it decided to explain why this dumbed down quote from Plato was correct.  The kids thought the explanation was ridiculous, that it didn’t make sense.  The book gave a silly tale of how a kid could be defrauded by not knowing the laws.  It put forth a scenario where an older kid told a younger, uneducated kid that on Wednesdays, young kids must turn their money over to older kids.  It had the younger kid willingly turn money over to the older kid because they were unaware that such a law didn’t exist.  My kids thought common sense would prevent the younger child from just rolling over when they didn’t know the laws.

I was pleased that they were so willing to poke holes into their history book.

I then poked my own hole.  I brought up how the Athenians had slaves.  For all their education, they could not see the inequity of slavery.  How could their education lead them to make good laws when their very society was based on slave labor?

One of the boys imagined a foreigner, from somewhere without slaves, entering the city.  He thought that the foreigner would be appalled by the vast acceptance of slavery.  I said that was an interesting thought.

If we count on the state to educate everyone so they can properly participate in government, what happens if the state teaches them to govern in a way that is not conducive to what is best for the populace?  What if the kids are taught that slavery is acceptable?

Howard Zinn writes in his book:

A People’s History of the United States, excerpt from Chapter 11

Joel Spring, in his book Education and the Rise of the Corporate State, says: “The development of a factory-like system in the nineteenth-century schoolroom was not accidental.”

This continued into the twentieth century, when William Bagley’s Classroom Management became a standard teacher training text, reprinted thirty times. Bagley said: “One who studies educational theory aright can see in the mechanical routine of the classroom the educative forces that are slowly transforming the child from a little savage into a creature of law and order, fit for the life of civilized society.”

It was in the middle and late nineteenth century that high schools developed as aids to the industrial system, that history was widely required in the curriculum to foster patriotism. Loyalty oaths, teacher certification, and the requirement of citizenship were introduced to control both the educational and the political quality of teachers.

Other authors have written on the public education system, and it is fairly well documented that it is used as system of control of the population.  Rage Against the Machine’s la Rocha raps about it in Take the Power Back:

The present curriculum
I put my fist in ’em
Eurocentric every last one of ’em
See right through the red, white and blue disguise
With lecture I puncture the structure of lies
Installed in our minds and attempting
To hold us back
We’ve got to take it back
Holes in our spirit causin’ tears and fears
One-sided stories for years and years and years
I’m inferior? Who’s inferior?
Yeah, we need to check the interior
Of the system that cares about only one culture

The public school system has repeatedly been used to train the public to accept various things. I imagine la Rocha and I have different complaints about what the schools train kids to think, but there may be some overlap there.  With Zinn, I think there is definitely some overlap because I have found many of his criticism of the crony capitalist state to be spot on, even if we would disagree on the way to resolve it.

I think there are a number of things that people would not accept unless they had grown up in a system that told them that not only is it okay, but it is the correct order of things.  Just as an average child would not give up their spending money to a trickster, average people wouldn’t be so willing to support state solutions for everything if it had not been inculcated in them from a young age that that was the way problems are best solved.  If you doubt that schools promote state solutions to problems, you may want to pay closer attention to what your child is learning and the kinds of questions they are answering at school.  Here is an actual question asked in biology at our local school:

Which of these is a way in which governments can protect ecosystems:

a. introducing invasive species

b. setting aside areas of public land

c. increasing fish harvests

d. cutting down forests

Notice that it is a given that it is the role of government to address a thing like protecting ecosystems.

Let us go back to the idea that a democracy needs an educated populace, and forget for a minute that we are supposed to have a republic with democratically elected representatives.  Does there really need to be an educated populace?  I am all for education.  I love it.  I love learning with my kids, I love learning on my own.  I can’t get enough of it.  I want everyone to love it, too.  I think everyone benefits from expanding their minds, expanding their knowledge.  The problem I see with education is when the state is the entity doing the educating.  The schools are too easy to co-opt by those with power to push their own agendas.

People on the left and the right all know this happens.  They are keenly aware of it when an agenda shows up in the schools that contradicts their own views.  Yet neither side would ever consider not having public education.  One of the main reasons given, especially by the left, is that we need an educated population because we are supposed to participate in government.  I say this is one of the many reasons the government shouldn’t be in the education business.  Only a certain set of ideas get put across to the kids, and it serves to keep the status quo going.

Education could and would happen if there wasn’t a public school system.  I’ve yet to convince anyone of this.  Countries much poorer than ours have private schools systems were most of the children are taught.  Suggesting that we don’t need public education is tantamount to condemning children to a life of poverty.  The bias is strong in favor of state school systems, even as people understand the power the school systems hold over the youth.

On the bright side, more and more people are pulling their kids out of public school to home school.  Less people hearing the agendas being pushed means more resistance to them.  It means more voices countering bad ideas.  Technology is making home schooling much easier for the average families, so I have high hopes this trend will continue.