The Link between Mass Schooling and Mental Instability in Kids

High School Hallway. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The other day I wrote a piece for the Federalist in which I explore the ways mass public schooling actually cultivates mental instability in children.  You can read it here:  “13 Ways Public Schools Incubate Mental Instability in Kids.”

In the wake of another school shooting – and now the ways children are being used to serve as mouthpieces for PC agendas, including (but not limited to) gun control — I think it’s high time we take a good hard look at the institutions that are shaping them for most of  their waking hours. The schools teach abject conformity in so many ways, that I believe they are literally making kids ill.  In my piece I list 13 ways this happens in today’s government mega-schools. They include the hierarchy of cliques, status anxiety, relational aggression, hostility towards family and faith, politicization, and enforced conformity.

I’m sure you can add many more ways today’s schools feel oppressive, and even prison-like.  And yet there are now places called “school refusal clinics” for children to be psychologically “treated” if school becomes so alienating and lonely for children that it literally makes them sick.

Below is an excerpt on just one of those 13 points.  In it, I reflect on how the sheer size of today’s schools have grown exponentially.  I think this in itself promotes an alienating environment that’s not conducive to mental health.

Back in 1929-30, there were about 248,000 public schools in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. How many today? Far less than half that. By 2013-14, the number had shrunk to 98,000.

When you consider that the U.S. population nearly tripled in that timeframe, there’s no question this factory model of schooling has grown exponentially. The numbers speak to the intense bureaucratization of a public school system that is becoming more centralized with less local control, packing ever-larger numbers of students in one place.

The natural effect for a young human being is an emotional malaise that fuels a sense of confusion and detachment. I believe the sociologist Emile Durkheim coined the term “anomie” to describe this state of isolation. Even the physical architecture of public schools is getting more estranging. They tend to be larger and more looming, almost blade-runner-like in their effect of shrinking and sequestering individuals to irrelevance.



My FRC talk about Social and Emotional Programming, the latest fad in Education

I recently spoke at the Family Research Council about a new fad in mass public schooling called “social and emotional learning” (SEL.) Those who advocate for SEL claim the program will give children critical life skills, such as empathy, getting along with others, and making good decisions. An organization called the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) wants a government mandate that will bring this program into every school. You can watch my FRC policy lecture here:

In this talk I give my perspective on SEL.  While good teachers are always a godsend, bureaucrats can never achieve what they promise in such programs. Especially since their framework is mass schooling. Such values and attitudes need to be taught in intimate settings of trust, such as families.  Not in hyper-bureaucratized mega-schools.  I see the SEL program as a bait-and-switch operation, because it demands universal compliance with its methods, with its content, and with its monopoly.  By its very monolithic nature as program driven by a government monopoly, it is coercive. In the video, you’ll see a clip in which a representative for SEL tells us that they “need the WHOLE child.” And if you delve into this more, you can see that the SEL program is really all about enforcing conformity: Conformity of feelings, attitudes, emotions, speech, attitudes, beliefs, and behavior.  When such things are directed by a centralized State mandate, rather than by de-centralized mediating institutions —  institutions of family, faith, and voluntary associations — there can be no freedom, nor can there be real diversity.

Must Read: The Devil’s Pleasure Palace

I have a review of Michael Walsh’s book (now out in paperback) “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West” over at Acton Institute’s Transatlantic blog.  If you haven’t yet read Walsh’s book, it’s a must read for understanding the Left’s war on reality, and how it spawned political correctness and multiculturalism to divide and control us all.  Here’s the link for purchasing the book on Amazon:  The Devil’s Pleasure Palace

My review is here:  Book Review: “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace” by Michael Walsh.

We can trace critical theory back about a hundred years, to a group of Marxists in Germany:

The neo-Marxist thinkers who invented critical theory coalesced at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt after World War I. The core idea was to foment radical social change and undermine “repressive” Western culture by advancing roughly the premise that all ideas – except theirs, of course – should be criticized and challenged. The attacks on the institutions that make freedom possible – family, religion, classical education, the arts, free markets, free speech – can be traced to critical theory. Critical theory operates under the guise of “equality” and “social justice,” but suppresses all competing influences.

Walsh’s book is rich with allusions from literature and opera.  The title is based on the Schubert opera “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace,” a metaphor for the nihilism of critical theory which is all built on illusion — and crumbles into nothing when it is confronted head on.

Some Study Questions for “Cults in our Midst”

If you decide to read Margaret Thaler Singer’s book, “Cults in our Midst,” I offer a few study questions below.  I also hope you have the beginnings of a book club to get the conversation going on these issues.

We are living through a time of immense social change and instability.  It is during such times throughout history — especially with fast technological changes — that cult activity takes root and thrives.  But even more alarming is that there is virtually no discussion in public discourse about how cult-like thinking penetrates and infects a society.  This level of unawareness is a red flag.

If you can’t read the whole book, I recommend focusing just on the following pages/chapters:  Singer’s INTRODUCTION (to the first edition); Chapter 1 – DEFINING CULTS (pp. 3-28);Chapter 2  A BRIEF HISTORY OF CULTS – Just 2 pages: 29-30)  THE PROCESS OF BRAINWASHING —  (pp. 52-82); Chapter 4 – WHAT’S WRONG WITH CULTS?  (pp. 83-102); Chapter 5 – RECRUITING NEW MEMBERS (pp. 104-124); Chapter 9 – THE THREAT OF INTIMIDATION (excerpt pp. 224-43); Chapter 11 — WHY IT’S HARD TO LEAVE – (excerpt pp. 270-79)

Pay special attention to Chapter 3 in which Singer identifies the six basic features of cults, which are as follows:  1. Keep the person unaware that there is an agenda to control or change the person; 2. Control time and physical environment (contacts, information); 3. Create a sense of powerlessness, fear, and DEPENDENCY; 4. Suppress old behavior and attitudes; 5. Instill new behavior and attitudes; 6. Put forth a closed system of logic.

Singer also includes discussion of the eight themes of cults, as ennumerated by cult expert Robert Jay Lifton:  1. Milieu control; 2. Loading the language; 3. Demand for purity; 4. Confession; 5. Mystical manipulation; 6. Doctrine over person; 7. “Sacred science;” and 8. Dispensing of existence.

Singer also discusses the Edgar Schein’s theory of three stages that a person in a cult goes through as their attitudes are being reshaped to suit the cult’s leadership:  the freezing of thought processes; the transformation of thoughts; and then the unfreezing of thought processes.

Here are some study questions to consider while reading:

1.     Review the charts in Chapter 3, and especially the list of Singer’s six conditions that allow brainwashing to happen.  Then answer: What makes a person susceptible to that kind of psychological manipulation?  

 2.     What groups (or institutions or policies or social trends) can you name in Western life today that apply cultic methods and techniques to unduly influence behavior and suppress freedom?

3.     According to Singer, the effects of brainwashing are very often reversible. What can ordinary citizens do to help Americans – and especially students – keep their minds free of undue influence?

4. Why do you think the methods and techniques of cult activity never come up for discussion in America today?


Next Up for Stella’s Book Club: “Cults in our Midst”

In February I posted a fascinating chart from Margaret Thaler Singer’s book “Cults in our Midst.”  You can find it in my blog post entitled:  “Do you know the difference between real education versus coercive thought reform?”  The chart which Singer drew up is called “The Continuum of Influence and Persuasion.”  On one side of the continuum is true education that involves open and civil discourse with no intent to deceive.  On the other side is coercive thought reform, or brainwashing, which uses deceptive tactics to blunt independent thought and control the person.  In between are other, varying forms of influence: advertising, propaganda, indoctrination.  It’s very helpful to understand what’s going on in each of these forms of persuasion.

I believe that the study of cult methods is useful for resisting political correctness. And especially today.  First of all, few people are actually focusing today on the methods and processes of thought reform.  Certainly not the media or academia.  And as we are battered with floods of information from all quarters — the internet, news outlets, social media, TV, our education institutions, and so on — one thing should be clear:  there is a battle to push us into conformity of thought to the benefit of power elites and their power-consolidating agendas.  There’s nothing new there.  This has been the story in advertising and propaganda from time immemorial.  But what is most disconcerting is that few are investigating the actual guts of the propaganda machinery itself.  At some point we have to tune out the constant barrage of blather and start sniffing out the machinery that its coming from!

The study of cults offers a key to understanding how propagandists behave:  their methods, their features, their techniques for controlling how people think. It’s especially helpful in strengthening us to resist the temptation to self-censor in our culture of political correctness. And that’s critical because giving in to it creates a spiral of silence that makes it ever harder to express an independent thought.  Propagandists know this!  Anyone pushing a power-centralizing agenda tends to be hellbent on shutting off all other forms of influence in people’s lives. Driving you into this sort of isolation is exactly what political correctness is designed to do.  Did it ever occur to you that this is precisely how cult leaders operate as well?

So, please take a look at Singer’s book as soon as possible.  Find another person to do the same so you can talk about it.  Hopefully you can grow a book club like mine, dedicated to propaganda awareness and the fight for freedom of expression.  I hope soon to post some some study questions that go with the book.

Next up for Stella’s Book Club: Doris Lessing’s “Prisons We Choose to Live Inside”

My book club met the other day and we had a lively discussion of Denise Winn’s book The Manipulated Mind: Brainwashing, Conditioning, and Indoctrination.  Next we’ll be reading Doris Lessing’s book on this topic.  That little volume (77 pages) of five essays entitled Prisons We Choose to Live Inside (1986) is a gem that deserves a whole lot more attention.  Lessing (1919-2013) was an icon of feminism who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007.   Youtube has posted excerpts from those speeches in which she talks about conformity and how group think operates on us.  You can listen here:

Over the years, especially as Lessing became more unsettled by the noxious influences of group think and mob psychology in Western society, she became a great champion of free speech.  I wrote about her in two previous blog entries:  “Acclaimed Author Doris Lessing: Our Future Depends on Resisting Group Think” and “Doris Lessing on Fighting Group Think.”

I am more convinced than ever that awareness of how propaganda works on us is KEY to helping our society regain sanity and reason.  As more and more students at campuses around the country shout down politically incorrect speakers — even to the point of rioting — it is clearer than ever that our very individuality is under attack.

Freedom of conscience, of speech, of association is all under attack.  Radical education reforms continue to sow ignorance. They continue to intellectually kneecap students so that they are not even capable of listening to diverse points of view.  Instead, students seem to have been programmed to respond reflexively and emotionally against free speech, as they did the other day at Indiana University at Bloomington when scholar Charles Murray spoke there.  Watch here:   The act is so self-destructive, it’s as though these students have been virtually programmed to shoot themselves in the head.

Let me provide an insightful quote from Lessing’s book.  Whether or not you read the book, please keep this particular quote in mind:

“. . . it is always the individual, in the long run, who will set the tone, provide the real development in a society.

Looking back, I see what a great influence an individual may have, even an apparently obscure person, living a small, quiet life.  It is individuals who change societies, give birth to ideas, who, standing out against tides of opinion, and change them. This is as true in open societies as it is in oppressive societies, but of course the casualty rate in the closed societies is higher.  Everything that has ever happened to me has taught me to value the individual, the person who cultivates and preserves her or his own ways of thinking, who stands out against group thinking, group pressures.  Or who, conforming no more than is necessary to group pressures, quietly preserves individual thinking and development. . . .

“It is my belief that an intelligent and forward-looking society would do everything possible to produce such individuals, instead of, as happens very often, suppressing them.  But if governments, if cultures, don’t encourage their production, then individuals and groups can and should.”

Isn’t it interesting that political correctness is all about suppressing the voice of the individual?  To force self-censorship on us? I suspect that is because the small minority of power elites have always wished to control the masses.  But they realize — better than we do — that there is great power in the individual voice. So, as always, they employ group think-tactics in order to mobilize mobs to shut down conversation and friendship.  We’ve no choice but to go against that hostile tide.  So start your book club to help disable the propaganda machine! Even if it’s only with one other person.  It’ll grow.

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:…
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.”