Anything In School?
If you were to ask a child what they learned in public school, it would probably be a list of subjects, like reading, writing, and math. They won't mention the stronger influences of obedience, submission, and willingness to follow orders. Yet, this must certainly be one of the lessons that comes through compulsory schooling. All of the pupils, while their eyes are dazzled by science and their minds busied with word problems, are taught through authority. They may be ingesting particular facts, such as how climate or ecosystems work. But with every fact that they think they are learning, the student learns to take nourishment from their master without questioning.
This is the first lesson, that pervades through every single class and under every single teacher, so widespread and dominant that the students either do not see it at all or are only aware of its existence: domination by authority. It could be English or French, Biology or Astronomy, Computer Science or Mathematics. The subject of the class is completely irrelevant The students will be expected to sit down and not to speak without permission, at specific places and specific times, without being told or reminded. This lesson, which carries on from year to year, is the strongest of them all. It is not questioned by the teachers or the administrators. The students, like slaves, are too preoccupied in their work to try to deconstruct and understand the system that controls them. Domination, authority, and coercion are the true subjects of the modern, compulsory school.
In History class, the teacher will tell you, "You're lucky! In the Soviet Union, you couldn't even pick your own job!" The student, unimpressed, typically responds, "How am I supposed to pick my own job in the United States if I can't even pick my own classes?" This has been the most treasured right of all for universities, especially more than schools. The university system, extending back by more than five or six centuries, has always given the exact same classes to all students. The first attempt to eliminate this in Europe was in the early 1920's in Italy.
But the teachers and the staff resisted, some even telling lies to the press, saying, "With four anatomy courses, a student can become a surgeon!" After calling on Mussolini and the forces of Fascism, the university system was changed back: every student has the same classes, and no student is allowed to choose. [*1] In all Fascist countries, from Spain to Germany to Italy, the teaching class was always the first to come forward and accept the lies of the ruling party. If their students are bettered by being forced into obedience by their betters, then the same must be true of teachers forced into obedience by dictators, right? The reasoning holds solidly, as those who cannot accept political dictatorship will not be able to do so when it is applied over the students of a school by a superintendent
What a revolution, then, to behold today universities and colleges that have "electives." The university students today who are allowed to "elect" particular classes, then, do not quite realize that they are living in a new era. For only the past few decades, students have been allowed to "elect" what they want. The idea of a single student being mass produced, taught all the same phrases in Spanish and the same histories of the Greeks, is no longer appealing. People want to demonstrate their individual qualities, as a physician does not want to learn Hebrew in order to heal the sick -- a computer scientist does not want to learn Physics in order to design computer logic.
What did the students' struggle for electives represent, even if it is left out of all the "accepted" books on the history of education? It represents a conflict, which should never be underlined or explained to the student. It is a conflict that is kept as far away from them as possible, as the manager or boss who threatens workers for discussing Socialism or Communism in the breakroom. This conflict, which is found in the struggle for electives, is between the student's desire to develop themselves intellectually and emotionally -- and the desire of the teachers to have control. These two desires are in conflict: the more control the teachers have, the less the students can develop and improve, or that is, the less the students learn.
The contradiction is kept out of view because schools are, allegedly, here to "teach" or to help students "learn." But, every single school is founded on authority, on power, on the absolute dominion of a principal or school advisor. If the students learn how much authority is opposed to learning, they will understand the first lie of the education system: that schools are here for the education of the youth. Because if schools really intended to uplift the students by giving them knowledge, they would not rely on the ancient, authoritarian methods that threaten knowledge. The truth is simply that the schools do not exist to educate the people -- the pure proof of this is that education in the schools is sacrificed to the gluttonous power of authoritarianism. It is more important to make students into people who obey, rather than to make them into educated people. This is the rule of all compulsory schooling.
When authority and power are in control of a social institution, it tends toward slavery and servility. The state, when it is organized without the participation or consent of the people, is abusive, cruel, and manipulative. The church, when it is organized by a few who treat the people like their flock, becomes violent, ignorant, and brainwashing. And the economy, when it is dominated by a very few who own all the industries, becomes exploitation and alienation. Why, then, is it not recognized, that a few people in control of the schools turns education into a support for violence and tyranny?
*1. "Neither Bread Nor Liberty," Edited by Frances Keene, 1940, pages 95, 117, 118-120, 132-133, and 174.