The Soul Abstracted from Life
Modern civilization willingly consigns almost all of its children to the living hell of forced retardation. Everyone knows the educational establishment is beset with problems, corruptions, and the downward ratchet of lowest common denominator standards. And yet parents continue to send their children to government schools, hoping, perhaps even half-believing, that this will not significantly harm the children’s adult lives. They are dead wrong. What follows is an anatomical diagram of mankind’s greatest shame.
Let us begin at the beginning. The primary purpose of all government controlled education – regardless of how this is expressed by particular defenders of the enterprise – is to produce the kind of citizens the government sees as best suited to its established form of governance. By “the government,” I mean those people and factions within the political infrastructure who are in a position to determine the long-term structure and interests of the community as a whole. Since public education, in the modern sense of government-run schools employing government-trained teachers, is a project that would likely only be undertaken in the first place by people who believe government can manage people’s private interests better than they can do for themselves, it is all but inevitable that the kind of citizen such a system will be designed to produce will be one who believes implicitly in the necessity of government as a direct social and moral regulator, and for whom the superior understanding of government in determining the proper course of an individual’s life is generally presumed.
Thus far, I am assuming a relatively benign government, with semi-reasonable, if presumptuous, goals. What happens, however, when the political community is infiltrated by men with less noble intentions? – amoral manipulators who crave more authority than their predecessors considered acceptable, and who seek to establish laws, attitudes and customs designed to expand and perpetuate their control over the power centers of the community: wealth and material production, the permanent regulatory bureaucracy, and the levers of legislative authority. In a community that retained any semblance of its dignity, its moral substance, and its thirst for self-determination, these manipulators would be recognized immediately, and rejected outright, whether by vote or by violence – unless they conducted their civilizational ambush under the protective cover of rationalizing theory.
Fortunately for Satan, modernity has produced plenty of self-styled “education theorists,” men and women of the intellectual class whose minds have become unmoored from what they dismissively label “traditional morality,” and who are certain they could design the perfectly ordered community, if only they had the means to universal social control. These education theorists are our real life mad scientists, disregarding all moral and rational limits in pursuit of that self-vindicating, immortalizing moment when they can see their artificial creature in motion and exclaim, “It’s alive!”
These pseudo-scientists are the perfect tools of the corrupt ruling class, as their goals are mutually complementary. The wealthy, manipulative power-brokers seek a veneer of “new methods” and “social progress” to mask and justify their urge to control the mind and machinery of society for their own advantage; the intellectuals would happily sell their souls for a chance to see their grand schemes put into practice. This symbiotic relationship is enhanced by the two factions’ awareness of a common enemy: the thoughtful, self-reliant man of character. Such an individual is a threat to the power-brokers because he will recognize what is behind their mask, and refuse to submit to their social manipulations. He is a threat to the mad scientists, because their need to be right has overwhelmed their interest in the truth, and hence their greatest fear is the appearance of living counterexamples, whose presence would refute their life’s work. Hence, the undermining of such thoughtful, self-reliant men is a central goal of both the power-brokers and their intellectual lapdogs.
What becomes of the always dubious project of government-controlled education in the hands of such ignobly-motivated men? First of all, these men will need to alter the social aspects of the school environment, using every child’s most natural learning methods – imitation and checking for approval – to inculcate a new mentality, one both useful to, and accepting of, the state’s gradual encroachments into the territory previously fenced off for human freedom, privacy, and moral choice. Ethical individualism and intellectual independence are the natural enemies of this system, and must therefore be discouraged in every way.
At the political level, this means government schooling must be compulsory, so that no family’s children may escape its influence, and it must tend towards ever-increasing standardization of methods and outcomes, to mitigate the effect of any stray free-thinkers or plain decent human beings who may find their way into the teaching profession, in spite of the various hoops and obstacles set in place to prevent such good people from infiltrating the classroom. At the theoretical level, the goal is to weed out and crush the impulse to individualism, independent thought, and self-reliance from the earliest stages of child development, and to reinforce the child’s bondage to the collective, and dependence upon authority, through methods of rearing and schooling so contrary to the true needs of human nature that the entire system would be immediately recognizable as pure evil – had that system not also raised every person in the community to doubt the ultimate reality of such old-fashioned notions as good, evil, nature, and truth.
But “weed out” and “crush” are mere metaphors. How exactly does the compulsory mass education project of the mad scientists and their political puppet-masters undo individualism, intellectual curiosity, and independence? Adhering to the ancient wisdom of the true philosophers of education, the modern theorists know that the key lies not in verbal rules, lessons, or memorized slogans; those will be spoon-fed later, as reinforcement for the well-laid foundations. Rather, one must begin by educating the feelings – fostering, or in this case stifling, the natural emotional states that drive children to seek understanding and mastery over themselves and their circumstances.
Children must be taken from the home as early as possible, in order to prevent families from instilling habits of curiosity and enthusiasm for knowledge that would be difficult for the state to undo. (Hence today’s constant push for “universal pre-school.”) They must spend the bulk of their waking hours throughout their young lives within the government’s educational environment, in order to minimize countervailing influences. This environment, the primary influence in every publicly educated child’s life – whatever fairytales parents may wish to believe – is calibrated on every level to undermine the development of the child’s understanding of himself as a separate entity capable of knowing his surroundings, projecting his imagination into the future, and contriving means of applying his growing knowledge to his environment to achieve the goals he has projected.
Where nature gives the child a basic need to begin recognizing the distinction between himself and his surroundings, in order to clarify his sense of being an individual living thing with a mind of its own, the mad scientists of public education lock him in a room full of children, with a teacher whose primary job is to make sure the children move as one, play as one, and study as one. Separating oneself from the group is discouraged. On the contrary, the conditions are designed to foster a desire for “belonging” – a most apt word, as it plainly designates the child’s proper status within the progressive world: he “belongs” to his social group, which, in adult terms, means he is property of the collective. The primacy of the yearning to “belong,” so essential to popular progressive psychology, runs counter to every earlier ideal of humanity: the brave hero, the adventurer, the explorer, the theoretical man, the innovative artist, the man of intransigent faith. Against all such archetypes, public education asks the child, “Why risk getting thrown in with the lions, when you could be part of the cheering crowd?”
Where his whole being cries out for mature exemplars of human behavior and understanding, for older children and especially for adults – in short, for evidence and models of his natural completion – public school gives him “peers,” children his own age, as incomplete and ignorant as he is. Worse yet, the universality of this arrangement and its coercive social dynamic force-feed him the sense that this is as it should be, and that there is something wrong with children wanting to be with adults who behave as adults – as opposed to public school teachers, who are trained to play to the child’s sensibility, as though the purpose of childhood education were to learn how to be a child, rather than how to be an adult. (“Let kids be kids.”)
Where nature gives him practical needs, concrete interests arising from his surroundings, and the urge to develop the knowledge required to meet those needs and pursue those interests, the progressive controllers knowingly drag him away from his real world by force, trapping him for years in an abstract world of “preparing” for reality, an artificial realm of learning for real life, rather than from real life. This abstraction from everyday life, lost in the stultifying maze of public school Pretend Land, kills his natural impulse to seek knowledge, by removing him from any normal sense of a practical need to know. That is why children learn less and less, while spending more and more years in public school. This is no paradox, but a simple matter of cause and effect: the further the mind is removed from individual experience of practical needs and “idle curiosities,” the less inclined it becomes to try to grasp things. (“Grasping” is one of our most penetrating metaphors for learning; it emphasizes the essential role of active will, of rationally directed desire.) Ignorance, dependency, lack of intellectual initiative, and a dearth of simple human curiosity are the necessary results of raising children in abstraction from the world of natural needs and enthusiasms for their entire lives up to voting age. Is it any wonder that the products of such forced abstraction, if they are allowed to vote, consistently choose the candidates (of whichever party) who promise to take care of them and protect them from the daunting world of personal responsibility? They have rarely seen that world, and hence perceive it only as a threat to their comfort.
Where nature, to use Aristotelian language, fills the potential being with a craving for actuality, i.e., for the fully developed soul of a rational and moral agent, public education deliberately dulls that craving, and ultimately smothers it, diverting him into blind alleys with collectivist social pressures, interminable boredom, and a hundred distractions and amusements intended to heighten the most tyrannical of his emotional drives in detachment from any rational goals or moral considerations. After spending at least the first quarter of his natural life – the years of his greatest intellectual growth potential and largest reserves of emotional fuel – in this thought-killing, character-thwarting environment, the normal child emerges exactly as he was intended to emerge: dependent upon the collective, incapable of complex reasoning about concrete human concerns (politics, morality), dismissive and cynical regarding fundamental theoretical questions (God, freedom, immortality), ignorant of all previous human eras, ideas, and art, and incapable of conceiving of any principle or plan of living broader than this moment, or nobler than his ruling desires for physical gratification and an infant’s notion of “security.”
The great mad scientists, such as Lenin and Dewey, and their acolytes, such as Bill Ayers, have demonstrated that this forced retardation machine may be realized with such a degree of comprehensiveness that only through an unusual combination of natural drives, lucky circumstances, and years of suffering as a fringe-dweller in the public school social apparatus, may a young person have any chance of withstanding the deadening effects of progressive schooling with much of his spirit intact. As for whether anyone may survive this spiritual thresher completely unscathed, my answer – based on experience, reflection, study, and close observation of hundreds of children from vastly different backgrounds, including those I have taught myself – is a firm and unequivocal No.
One of the great successes of modern public education is that, being universal and compulsory, it virtually obliterates nature’s counterexamples, thereby creating vastly reduced expectations and standards in even the most reasonable parents. It is now, remarkably, a project of theoretical speculation and historical research to discover what a normal human child, having been raised in the real world by his own family, and having learned how to function as a self-reliant person by being one, might look like. That bizarre fact is the measure of our catastrophe, of the triumph of the totalitarian impulse over modern liberty, and of mankind’s greatest shame.
It is customary, at this point, for a certain number of people to scoff, “This is all well and good, but you don’t tell us what to do about it.” I, for one, am tired of this response. If you do not know what to do at this point, you do not want to know. For everyone else, it is time to act while you are still legally permitted to do so.
(This article originally appeared at American Thinker.)