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.


Know Your Enemy

Rage Against the Machine has recently captured by imagination. I get this band is leftist.  Libertarians and leftist of this variety share some concerns, some of the same outrages.   I’m going to write about some of the lyrics from their song Know Your Enemy.


What? The land of the free?
Whoever told you that is your enemy?

My reaction to this  was “heck yeah”. Ok, so my original word was a lot stronger than heck.  Then I read.  I read what the guitarist Tom Morello said.  “America touts itself as the land of the free, but the number one freedom that you and I have is the freedom to enter into a subservient role in the workplace. Once you exercise this freedom you’ve lost all control over what you do, what is produced, and how it is produced. And in the end, the product doesn’t belong to you. The only way you can avoid bosses and jobs is if you don’t care about making a living. Which leads to the second freedom: the freedom to starve.”

Seriously, that kind of thing blows me away.  It is like people can’t actually observe the world in front of them. If it weren’t for capitalism and the division of labor, we would all be living at subsistence levels threatened regularly with starvation.  Life is full of trade-offs.  People like me sell their labor and in return we are given a paycheck to spend on whatever it is we desire.  I’m not concerned too much about what is produced, other than I have a personal dedication to doing quality work.  What I care about is that I get the money to buy the things I need.  I also wonder what is wrong with taking a subservient role.  I’ve got a good deal of control in other aspects of my life, it simply doesn’t bother me that I have to do as my boss asks.  Most bosses I have had don’t ask me to do things with which I have a problem.  I know what I contracted to do, and I’m fine with doing it, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the job in the first place.  Oh I know, I’m just lucky.  Everyone else is stuck working for miserable bosses that force them to do miserable things (sarcasm).

Another part of the lyrics:

Come on!
Yes I know my enemies
They’re the teachers who taught me to fight me
Compromise, conformity, assimilation, submission
Ignorance, hypocrisy, brutality, the elite
All of which are American dreams

On the face of it, these seem like some pretty great criticisms.  I don’t know about them being American dreams, more like American reality.  The problem is that after reading what is thought about working for wages, I realize that we probably have entirely different interpretations of what we would mean by these words.  Here is my version:

Compromise – The way the two-party system continually compromise and we end up with more and more governmental control.

Conformity, Assimilation – The way the public schools churn out worker bees instead of entrepreneurs.  The way kids that don’t fit the mold are drugged in an effort to get them into the mold.

Submission – TSA, Drug War, Regulation

Brutality – Police with too many laws to enforce.  No knock raids.  Wars of aggression.  Preemptive war.

Ignorance – Schools again, putting forth a one sided narrative authored by the government.  Complete ignorance on economics by most of the nation.

Hypocrisy – Politicians on both side, doing the same things while pretending they are different.

Elite – We might agree on this one.  The rich who exercise more control over the government than the rest of the citizens.  Our remedy would differ, I am sure.

My take away from this is that no wonder it is hard to have effective dialogues in this country when the same words mean entirely different things to different people.  Another takeaway is that it is also difficult when we can see some of the same problems and have such radically different ideas on the causes and the solutions.