Maybe Ferris Bueller took a Day Off, but Real Education has taken Generations Off

When I see the great clip below of Ben Stein as a high school economics teacher — from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” — I’m very amused.  But at the same time, I  can’t help but feel saddened because I believe the scene also reflects the  intellectual theft committed by our education establishment over the past couple of generations.  The lecture in this classroom scene deals with the handling of the U.S. economy in the wake of the Great Depression. It’s another fascinating topic rendered irrelevant and boring by our factory methods of schooling, as well as by the effects of radical education reform.  The students neither know the answers nor care.  And their apathy is not something we can simply blame on a boring teacher.

I recall a feeling of annoyance — anger, actually — when I realized that so much classical education was basically withheld from me in my public high school.  Thanks to radical education reform, my high school did not offer the average student any year-long surveys or foundational courses in English and History. Instead, we got a new curriculum with a fractured menu from which we could pick from among many various 9-week classes.  Among the offerings were “American Drama” in which students could read a play or two by Lillian Hellman or Tennessee Williams; “Modern Poetry,” which mostly consisted of the lyrics of songs by Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Simon & Garfunkel;  “Shakespearean Tragedy,” in which you could spend the academic quarter reading and studying nothing but Macbeth.  As far as History was concerned, students could choose from a menu in which they might study the Civil War for a quarter.  Or a new course called “Ecology.”  Or American Presidents. In the latter each student would simply pick one president to write a report about and then share it with the class.

Question: What’s wrong with this picture?  Answer:  It is devoid of context.  Instead of a continuum of foundational knowledge, students are offered fractured bits and pieces of out-of-context readings and discussions unattached to any greater body of knowledge.  A good survey course, on the other hand, will place historical events and people in context.  You’ll get the Big Picture instead of a few random and disconnected puzzle pieces.  A good English survey course will provide the entire spectrum and history of English literature.  By the time I got to college I realized that neither Chaucer nor Milton were even mentioned once in any of my English classes.  There were really only two ways to get a survey of history at my high school:  either you were selected for Advanced Placement or took the summer school class which crammed the entire academic year into six weeks. The former was not available to very many students, and the latter (which I opted for) was too compressed to retain much of anything.

This sort of experimental education laid the groundwork for the even more fractured education children are getting today, so much of it rife with political correctness.  And, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago at The Federalist, “Today’s Riot-Prone Mobs are a product of America’s Cult Like Education System.”

Do you Know the Difference Between Real Education versus Coercive Thought Reform?

Margaret Thaler Singer (1921-2003)

Every college student should get acquainted with the chart below. In fact, all thoughtful citizens watching the spectacle of the zombification of college students – as they protest against what they don’t understand and shout trendy slogans to promote what they don’t understand – should be familiar with the chart.

Margaret Thaler Singer, the 20th century’s preeminent expert on cults, put together this excellent table called the “Continuum of Influence and Persuasion.” It shows how various forms of persuasion stack up against one another.  She lists five forms of influence, starting with the most open, true education, and ending with the most tyrannical, “thought reform” (also known as brainwashing or coercive persuasion.  You can also find this chart in Singer’s excellent book “Cults in Our Midst: The Continuing Fight Against Their Hidden Menace.”)  Take a look:

As you can see, Singer identifies five major methods by which people can be influenced.  The most open and honest of them all is true education.  Education exposes us to many bodies of knowledge and allows for civil discourse in which students feel free to ask questions openly.  They are therefore able to develop their ability to think clearly and independently.  In an environment of real education, students are respected as individuals with minds of their own.  The aim is to transfer knowledge about our common reality.  There is no deception in true education.

Thought reform or brainwashing, on the other hand, is the most deceptive and authoritarian form of persuasion. The subject is unaware of being manipulated to promote a hidden agenda.  The main purpose of thought reform is to turn the subject into a deployable agent to recruit others to agitate for that agenda.  As you watch today’s student protests, there can be little doubt that they are acting as agents for elites pushing various agendas. When interviewers ask them basic questions about the meaning of their protests, they tend to hem and haw, exposing their ignorance of the subject at hand. Their collectivist mindset tells you that they have had little in the way of meaningful education.

There are various other methods of persuasion that differ in their structure, level of deception, and other factors.  Singer identifies them on this continuum as advertising, propaganda, and indoctrination.  But the main takeaway from this chart should be a clearer understanding of the difference between education and thought reform.

Congress will soon take up reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.  Let’s hope that Congress overhauls it.  If education can not get back on the road to its true meaning, its institutions will only continue to be centers of coercive persuasion, not learning.

It’s Time to Call Out the Education Establishment for Betrayal and Intellectual Theft

I wrote earlier this week in The Federalist that schools seem to deal more in cult like methods of indoctrination than they do in truly educating students so that they can successfully navigate the world.  The article I wrote, entitled “Today’s Riot-Prone Mobs are a product of America’s Cult Like Education System,” generated about 800 comments.  I generally don’t get caught up in reading comments, but I happened to scroll through some of them on that article, and one of them caught my eye.

The commenter, “Peter” shared his insights about his experiences in the public schools. I am excerpting some of his comments below.  He harbored a feeling much like my own when I realized that I was academically mind-hacked: I felt anger and a sense of betrayal.  The generational difference between the commenter and me means that he no doubt experienced far more oppressive political correctness than did I.  Nevertheless, the curriculum changes at my high school — especially in history and English — paved the way for what Peter would experience.  My high school’s history and English curricula destroyed the wholeness of survey courses and replaced them with out-of-context fragments of knowledge. In short, it was a form of intellectual theft, marketed as “relevance.”  I hope to write more about that later.  Political correctness also serves to drive very damaging divisions between students.

Here are excerpts of what Peter wrote (emphases mine):

I am a Millennial and I went through public education. I suffered racial hatred, sexism and all that jazz. I was treated horribly in those schools where they like to set up a black sheep and blame him for everything. If you can’t fight back, they choose you. A corrupt system finds these little relief valves, of sorts. The kind of people who lie, need to lie, and need to lie about those lies. When you see this kind of dysfunction, you’ve got blatant corruption.
What they never expected from me is that I’m a fighter and I don’t give up. It wasn’t easy, but I got through. . . .

I was indoctrinated into suffering this totalitarian belief system. They never told me about conservativism. I never learned about the Constitution in depth, or history such as Baron Montesque and Polybius, and of course the Bible was never mentioned. That was just for those racists in the south, those deplorables, I presume. What they didn’t expect was their abuse put a sour taste in my mouth, and my natural male rebellion and my natural gifts and curiosity led me to educate myself.
Years after high school and college, I stumbled on a YouTube video that lectured on the Constitution and how the founding fathers designed it to perpetuate freedom. I don’t know if this was it, but it was much like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?…
I think it was really a British professor, originally…
Anyways, when I stumbled on this certain video I was angry. I should have been taught this while in high school. I’m supposed to be an informed voter and a good citizen, right? Well, why was I taught only one side of history where the liberals prevail using quasi-Machiavellian tactics for the sake of the vulnerable and the oppressed (or really propaganda, excusing the tactics which actually create fascism from a democratic system, abusing it), when I should also have been taught all this other stuff? Why was this unfit for my expanding mind? How dare they humiliate me like this.
This wasn’t the first time I discovered another way of looking at things. I educated myself in business years ago and what I learned about free enterprise was stunning. It was a whole new look at economics outside of government control and regulation. It argued effectively against socialism and communism. Hint: socialism and communism suck. The main idea here is that I was assured that there’s just no other way to look at things outside of, gee, Capitalism simply failed because during the Great Depression, the stock market failed due to capitalism, and inevitable result, and we should be liberal socialists to control it, because the richer got richer and the poor got poorer. How can you look at history and not see this?
Well, that was only some of the information, and it’s good information, but it’s only a fraction. I don’t hold them in contempt that they shilled liberalism, they have a right to a bias and their own opinions and if they feel they’re right, they may try to sell their ideas to me, but I draw the line at intellectual dishonesty. For this reason their totalitarian philosophy towards education is absolutely antithetical to education, more or less, it’s blatant indoctrination into their liberal cult. . .

Hear, hear.

I am very familiar with Peter’s sense of betrayal, of being sold a bill of goods.  And whatever your political inclinations, as a person of goodwill you should be able to sympathize. I would add that this is not so much about liberalism versus conservatism as it is about freedom versus censorship.  He was deprived of the wholeness of the knowledge base that every student needs in order to make sense of the world.  And he was stuck basically in a prison that shuts down natural curiosity.  He was fed a diet of political correctness that propagandized him and was hostile to questions.  Worse, he was never educated about the real story about the founding of the American Republic, which at its very essence stood for freedom to express one’s conscience, freedom to learn.

I think a public list of grievances is in order.  Millennials — as well as those of other generations — who understand the damage done to them by the lies of the education establishment should band together and make those grievances known. Perhaps that could begin a process of de-programming for others who have been trapped in the cult of K12 and Higher Ed.

I want also to stress that wonderful teachers suffer at least as much as the students who are stifled and stuck in this system.  So a campaign airing these grievances would serve to support those good teachers, and could help to free them to fully pursue the joy of teaching.

 

Connection Between Riot-Prone Mobs and Cult-like Education

One of many mobs of agitators, angry about the US election results. (Wikipedia)

My article in The Federalist this morning — “Today’s Riot-Prone Mobs are a Product of Today’s Cult-Like Education System” — examines the growth of mindless group think that is fueling so much of the street theater we’re seeing these days.  I believe public education has developed a lot of the hallmarks of cult-like indoctrination, including coercive thought reform, the cultivation of emotional reflexes, and relational aggression against anyone who expresses an unauthorized thought.  Sadly, the agitators have been deployed as cannon fodder to serve the agendas of power elites who are hostile to any truly civil society in which real public discourse can take place.  And the radical education reforms of the past 50 or so years have played a huge role in bringing us to this moment.

Here’s an excerpt from my piece:

“Let’s face it. Today’s street theater is the culmination of decades of radical education revision. The radical Left’s systematic attack on the study of Western Civilization has essentially been an attack against the study of any and all civil societies. It is an attack on the features that make a society civil and free. Those features include freedom of expression, civil discourse, the Socratic method of figuring out truth, value of the individual, and a common knowledge of the classics of history and literature that help us understand what’s universal in the human experience. All of that had to go.

“Now, as we see students marching to demonize as “fascists” proponents of free speech, their ignorance is in full view. This is really a full frontal attack on the rule of law, the Constitution, and a system of checks and balances that guards against the consolidation of centralized power.

“That’s the whole point of the education these students have been fed. In fact, a lot of 1960s agitators, including domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, decided to place their bets on radical education revision. For at least 40 years, Ayers has been devoted to transforming schools from places of actual education to places of coercive thought reform. As Andrew McCarthy recently pointed out in National Review: “It was a comfy fit for him and many of his confederates, once it dawned on them that indoctrination inside the schoolhouse was more effective than blowing up the schoolhouse.”

“If you review the history of radical education reform, it’s clear these agitators have been committing mind arson on the children, undermining their ability to think independently and clearly.”

Two Quotes on Ignorance and Tyranny

Let’s spark imaginations, not stupid Molotov cocktails.

Maximillien Robespierre was a major figure of the French Revolution, probably best known for his role in the reign of terror.  I only bring him up because of this fascinating quote:

“The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.”

In that same vein, Thomas Jefferson noted:

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

But what is education?  What is ignorance? What do those words mean?   Today, only a clear and free mind — not one that has been pre-programmed — can begin to approach the true answers to those questions.  And that’s because our language has been so throughly corrupted by radical education reforms that have replaced content knowledge with politically correct scripts in our schools.  In his novel, 1984, George Orwell showed how the corruption of language leads to a dystopia whose people will accept as true such slogans as “Ignorance is Strength” and “Freedom is Slavery.”

So we need to demand the teaching of real knowledge.  Our schools should encourage natural curiosity instead of enforcing politically correct scripts that squash that curiosity.  They should allow for real tolerance instead using a PC label of tolerance that’s only meant to empower the power mongers, and to smear anybody with whom they disagree.  If we don’t do these things, we have essentially given in to the building of a cult mindset.

Instead, let’s encourage the building of axemaker’s minds that will promote innovation, self-reliance, true community building, and real knowledge.  And let’s fight the mind arson that’s been committed for too long by radical education “reformers.” By doing all of these things, we can begin to spark the productive fire of imagination, not the ignorance that causes people to mindlessly throw Molotov cocktails.  In this way, we can promote domestic tranquility, real friendship, and the possibility of real love among us.

 

About Blog Dormancy

Asleep at the keyboard. (“Sheila the PC Cat” @ Wikimedia Commons)

My lulls in social media use and posting to my blog come down to two things: aversion and fracturing.

First, I’ve built up quite an aversion to social media. Have you? The sad fact is that we live in an increasingly uncivil society, and the trend line only shows that the vulgarity and hostility fueled by political correctness is getting worse.  That’s not constructive for getting anything done.

The second issue is that extensive internet use — and social media in particular — is disruptive to the process of deep thinking. Constant mental gear shifting has a fracturing effect on the mind. You can read about this phenomenon in Nicholas Carr’s excellent book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. I’ve been trying to avoid the constant browsing that the internet and social media require, because so much of what I am trying to explore in my writing requires a very deep focus.

Our age is distracting enough, especially with the growing attacks on civil discourse.  The recent rioting intended to shut down speech at UC Berkeley and NYU have shown beyond a doubt that we’re in a bad way in that department.  So it’s more important than ever to nurture one’s ability to think clearly and deeply. And independently. Then we should try to spread that habit to others so that they and all of society can flourish in an atmosphere of civility.

I thank all who sent me messages through the contact form.  I very much appreciate your thoughts and support.  If I missed getting back to you about a question you had, I regret that. (Correspondence has become a bit more unwieldy too.)

Going forward, I hope to intensify my efforts on the subject of propaganda awareness.  Propaganda — along with its latter day spawn, political correctness —  is anathema to independent thinking, which means it is hostile to human conversation and friendship.

In the future I hope to post regularly at least twice a month.  Please subscribe if you’re interested!

Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Group Think Has Got to Go!

Students at Stanford University voted last week on a ballot proposal to reinstate the study of Western Civilization.  Whatever the outcome of the vote — and the results have been delayed, ostensibly because of a senate election that was “too close to call” — the fact that this question is being entertained at all is astonishing.  It’s a bold move.  And a victory for independent thought.

I wrote about it in my recent Federalist article “Stanford Students Fight Campus Group Think.”   After the study of Western Civilization was trashed about 30 years ago, group think was able to put down deep roots on our college campuses.  Political correctness created new enemies of thinking in the form of “trigger warnings” and “micro-aggressions.”  I don’t think this is a coincidence.  No way.

When tyrants aim to erase collective memory — by hiding or destroying the literature, arts, and history that bind a civilization together — they aim to create the conditions for conformity of thought.  All totalitarians know this.  ISIS militants, for example, are making a big point of destroying ancient artifacts, as the video below shows.

Obviously, ISIS takes a more direct approach than the cultural Marxists in the West.  But the goals are the same:  cultivate ignorance, promote group think, and destroy independent thought. It’s all about obtaining raw power.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“. . .  learning about Western culture isn’t simply about undertaking a cohesive study of the history, philosophy, literature, and arts that have enormously influenced the world in which we all live. It is also about learning how to express ideas effectively, how to separate fact from propaganda through specific tools of learningdeveloped in the West. Taking those tools away—such as the Socratic method, civil discourse, and rules of order and civil debate—hinders clarity, independent thought, and the powers of observation. It makes students far less able to resist conformity and group think.”

Bookcase: Robert Nisbet’s “The Quest for Community”

If you are trying to make sense of the seismic changes going on all around us in society, sociologist Robert Nisbet tied it all together in his classic work “The Quest for Community.”   It’s not a light read, but it is a must read for anyone who wants to understand how to maintain a free society.  It’s a prescient work, and it helped me understand where so much of the alienation and eerieness of this current election cycle has come from:  the brokenness of civil society, the continuing dissolution of strong community ties.

I find it fascinating that Nisbet was writing about the breakdown of community and alienation back in 1953.  This was half a century before Robert Putnam wrote “Bowling Alone” and 60 years before Charles Murray examined the devastating effects of family breakdown on community in his 2012 work “Coming Apart.”

As the ties that bind people together fall away — family, church, civic societies and private associations– alienation and loneliness in society grow.  But Nisbet noted that as this happens, the strong human impulse for community would remain.  We would merely grope around for a substitute.  So as social brokenness grows, people turn to the government to replace those ties.

It’s so bleak to consider all of this, because it’s happening with ever greater speed before our very eyes.  Worse, too many people cannot comprehend the irony of it all:  dependence on the mass state only leads to even greater atomization of the individual.  Even greater alienation. Is there anything cuddle-worthy in the mass bureaucratic state? Absolutely nothing.  All it can deliver is even greater loneliness.

Here’s an excerpt from Nisbet’s Preface, dated December 1952:

“The real significance of the modern State is inseparable from its successive penetrations of man’s economic, religious, kinship, and local allegiances, and its revolutionary dislocations of established centers of function and authority.  These, I believe, are the penetrations and dislocations that form the most illuminating perspective for the twentieth-century’s obsessive quest for moral certainty and social community and that make so difficult present-day problems of freedom and democracy.”

And in the preface to the 1970 edition, Nisbet noted this about youth and apathy:

“It has become steadily clearer to me that alienation is one of the determining realities of the contemporary age. . . By alienation I mean the state of mind that can find a social order remote, incomprehensible, or fraudulent; beyond real hope or desire; inviting apathy, boredom, or even hostility.  The individual not only does not feel a part of the social order; he has lost interest in being a part of it.  For a constantly enlarging number of persons, including, significantly, young persons of high school and college age, this state of alienation has become profoundly influential in both behavior and thought.”

Wow.  And that was 45 years ago!  Think about the mass cluelessness all around us today.  Think about students’ utter lack of knowledge of history, of civics, of the humanities.  Consider the lack of connection they must be feeling as they grope about, trying on all sorts of personas whether it’s a new gender identity persona or the persona of “social justice warrior.”    The divorce culture has rendered more than half of all children in today’s America the wards of broken homes.  Sure, children can be resilient.  But they so often feel broken and alienated as a result of the disruption in their ties with parents.  It takes its toll. Pathologies abound while folks scramble to find safe haven in the State.

And here’s the catch:  at the same time that the state gives  free stuff to individuals, it takes away from the individual’s personal relationships and associations.  As those relationships continue to weaken, State power grows. Let’s not forget that our families, our institutions of faith, our civic and private associations have always served as buffer zones balancing the freedom of the individual against the power of the state.  We’ve no choice but to defend and rebuild them.

What if there was an opinion cascade about pet rocks?

Availability cascade” is an academic term that basically has to do with manufacturing public opinion approval for a policy of some sort.  Any kind of policy at all.  In fact, think about how you might make an implausible idea seem plausible in public discourse, an idea no one ever even considered before.  Next, think about how to create a public opinion “cascade” in favor of that strange idea.  Availability cascades involve injecting a new idea into public discourse, which makes the idea more “available” to people to consider.  If you saturate the media with praises for the idea, and add just the right celebrity endorsements, you may well get a bandwagon effect and even get a majority to go along with it.  It can involve a lot of hype, but with political correctness it can also involve push back against those who don’t go along with the hype.

Let’s take an apolitical example of how an availability cascade might work.  In the 1970s there was a silly fad called “pet rocks.”  The pitch was that you didn’t have to feed or care for your rock, so it was the perfect pet!  Below is a youtube video that revisits the sort of narrative that would have gone with the sale of pet rocks.

Obviously, the pet rock was just a marketing gimmick and a passing fad.  The whole thing was tongue-in-cheek.  But just imagine what might have happened if anyone who called the idea of pet rocks “silly” was labelled and publicly smeared in the media as a “bigot.”  Repeatedly.  Imagine if Hollywood made films seriously praising the merits and the heroics of pet rocks and cast skeptics as villians.  Next, imagine if you could be fired from your job or socially shunned if you didn’t start talking respectfully about pet rocks and honoring them. My guess is that a lot of folks would start taking pet rocks very seriously, even if they privately found the whole thing ludicrous.  They would refrain from passing judgment.  They’d shut up about the silliness.  Or, to gain public approval, they might express great admiration, just as the crowds admired the Emperor’s non-existent New Clothes. And with a surging opinion cascade and great public acclaim for pet rocks, everyone would “ooohh and aahhh” before them, enthusiastically praising them, and giving them a special protected place in public policy.

Sure this idea seems far-fetched.  But we should consider how easy it is to get people to climb on board such a bandwagon.  Because with certain propaganda tools and insights into human behavior, it’s far too easy to do that.  Especially given a citizenry unaware of how propaganda affects them as individuals, which makes them even more vulnerable to psychological manipulation.  There are many social psychologists (virtually all on the political Left)  who study and measure the process of opinion cascades and how propaganda tactics can be used to tease out improbable trends.  (One such trend currently is the saturation of the media with agitation and propaganda to get the population on board with the transgender project.)

So an “availability cascade” is a bandwagon effect in public opinion that can be teased out through just the right propaganda and agitation techniques. More next time. . .

A Conversation with Robert Oscar Lopez on Campus Insanity

Please listen to a podcast I did with Robert Oscar Lopez, Professor of English at Cal State Northridge, by clicking here: https://soundcloud.com/militant-de-lenfant/cogwatch-13-morabito-on-the.

Professor Lopez and I discussed the current unrest on college campuses.  Why do so many students today seem unable or unwilling to engage other points of view?  Why do so many feel the need to retreat to “safe spaces” whenever they encounter a word or thought that “triggers” negative emotions?  Why are they so incoherent? So hostile? So blindly obedient to leftist agendas?  So divorced from reality?  To explore these questions, listen in!

Professor Lopez, author of Jephthah’s Daughters: Innocent Casualties in the War for Marriage ‘Equality’ has been targeted and harassed for the past several years by the LGBT lobby.  This is not only because of Lopez’s stance against same-sex marriage, but because he has a compelling story of his own:  He was raised by lesbians and identifies as bisexual.  (He may also be the object of their scorn because he has been faithfully married to the mother of his children for 15 years.)  The “diversity” bureaucrats at Cal State Northridge have worked tirelessly to concoct a case against Professor Lopez.  The video clip below will give you a brief summary of Professor Lopez’s insights:

You can also explore some of the related links on my site.  Here’s a post on the program “Bonds that Matter” that Professor Lopez hosted at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library last year. And here’s a previous podcast with Prof Lopez and me on the parallels between the LGBT lobby’s tactics and Bolshevism.  Also, here’s a brief review of mine of Jephthah’s Daughter’s.   Please order your copy from Amazon today!