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Indoctrination: the Real Purpose of Public Schools

Posted By on February 20, 2013



This is the fourth of a series of guest posts by Dr Danny Weil from an article (World Class Standards: Whose World, Which Economic Classes and What Standards?) he originally published in Daily Censored.

In this fourth section, Dr Weil identifies the true mission of public schools, according to cultural conservatives: to indoctrinate and inculcate students in Judeo-Christian values, obedience to authority, conservative morality and patriotism. To ensure, in other words, that they join society with a common individuality and a single American identity.


Cultural Conservatives and the Crisis in Education

By Dr Danny Weil

“The national debate on education is now focused on truly important matters: mastering the basics…insisting on high standards and expectations; ensuring discipline in the classroom; conveying a grasp of our moral and political principles; and nurturing the character of our young.” – William Bennett, Our Children and Our Country, 1988, p9”

“Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?” – Ronald Reagan

For cultural conservatives, the role of education is far more complex than simply producing workers who can compete in the global economy.  Although they agree with the notion of education for the new workplace of the future, cultural conservatives argue that the real role of schools is to transmit a common individuality, a single American identity.  They understand that education is political and moral activity and look to schooling as a site for the transmission of Judeo-Christian values, conservative morality, a common American heritage and they place great emphasis on manipulating symbols, such as the Bible and the national flag.  Arguing for back-to-basics and privatization in education, these conservatives lament what they characterize as the Balkanization of American identity; and they abhor diversity as a threat to national unity and a common American psyche.  In the minds of cultural conservatives, loyalty, patriotism, and obedience to authority must be rigorously and uncompromisingly taught and can be accomplished by establishing a common curriculum (E.D. Hersch, Cultural literacy: what every American needs to know, 1988).  The cultural conservative movement also argues that schools must teach specific facts and that these facts must never be challenged, but rather accepted as immutable, permanent truth.

For cultural conservatives, the educational crisis is really little more than an indication of a larger crisis—a quandary whereby society has fractured into diverse points of view, where civility has eroded and where standardized interpretations of the world have been forsaken for what they term a moral relativism (Bennett, 1988) or values deficit.  They blame the “excesses” of the 1960’s for what they see as the current crisis in schools and society in general, going so far as to claim:

“For the half decade starting with the late 1960’s, long established academic standards were abolished wholesale in a spasm reminiscent of the Red Guard’s destructive rampage through China’s classical cultural institutions (B. Y. Pines, “Back-to basics” as quoted in I. Shor, Culture wars, 1992, p59 )”.

Despondent over the loss of what they see as the “golden age of pedagogy”, where skills and common, unquestioned values were the object of school curriculums, cultural conservatives embrace back-to-basics as the panacea for what is wrong with America.

One of the best indications of this thrust can be seen in a 1977 article that appeared in Phi Delta Kappan (p87-94). Here, Ben Brodinsky characterized the back-to-basic conservative movement in terms that resonate even more loudly today.  Back-to-basics proposes, according to Brodinsky, among other things, that the school day be devoted solely to reading, writing and arithmetic and that phonics be the method to teach reading.  Textbooks should not display non-traditional values in sex, religion or politics and any criticism of national identity and American values should not be tolerated.  Pedagogy is to be teacher-centered with stern discipline, not child-centered with student autonomy.  Frequent drills and skill-based curriculums should be the norm along with teaching facts to students.  Academic criteria for promotion must be advocated in place of social promotion.  There should be no frills in education, such as sex education or controversial discussions of current affairs.  Fewer electives should comprise the day along with more required courses in the basics. And, the elimination of experimental and innovative courses and methods for value clarification, critical discussion and inquiry should be purged from educational corridors. Finally, back-to-basics, both then and now, advocate the return of patriotism in schools along with religious instruction.

Cultural conservatives call for a curricular restoration of authority in schools whereby teachers are to be colonial administrators of an educational plantation.  And the themes that underlie the cultural conservative calls for curriculum restoration can also be found in the attack on what they term “secular humanism”. U.S. Senator, Jesse Helms, commented not long ago:

When the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited children from participating in voluntary prayers in public schools, the conclusion is inescapable that the Supreme Court not only violated the right of free exercise of religion for all Americans, it also established a national religion in the United States—the religion of secular humanism (Helms, as quoted in Homer Duncan Secular humanism, the most dangerous religion in America.1979).”

The movement today towards vouchers for religious schools, home schooling and the effort to abolish the teaching of evolution in schools has its roots in the Religious-Right’s efforts to place religion squarely within the sphere of public education. According to cultural conservative, Tim LaHaye:

“Today public education is so humanistic that it is both anti-Catholic and anti-Protestant—because it is anti-God.…The chaos of today’s public education system is in direct proportion to its religious obsession with humanism (LaHaye, The Battle for the Mind,1980)”

By defining education as training, moral indoctrination, authoritarianism, religious instruction and back-to-basics, we can easily see why the national debate over standards, from the cultural conservative point of view, is tied to advocating a calibrating apparatus that measures students’ progress as the ability to memorize and regurgitate pre-ordained and prescribed facts and data, exercise skills in isolation, digest jingoistic curricula without questioning, read phonetically, and obey authority. William Bennett, the arch cultural conservative and former educational “czar”, stated the cultural conservative position clearly:

“We neglected and denied much of the best in American education…. we simply stopped doing the right things and allowed an assault on intellectual and moral standards (Bennett, as above, p9).”

For Bennett and his cultural conservative cohorts, the assault on intellectual and moral standards has led schools away from their mission—indoctrination and inculcation.  These conservatives now rejoice at what they feel is a return to the “real” purpose of education—they see their judgment day as having arrived.

(To be continued.)

Dr Danny Weil is a public interest attorney who has practiced for more than twenty years and has been published in a case of first impression in California. He is no longer active as a lawyer but has written seven books on education, has taught second grade in South Central LA, PS 122, taught K-1 migrant children in Santa Maria, California and Guadalupe, California, taught in the California Youth Authority to first and second degree murderers and taught for seventeen years at Allan Hancock Junior College in Santa Maria, CA. in the philosophy department. Dr. Weil holds a BA in Political Economics and Philosophy, a multi-subject bilingual credential in education (he is fluent in Spanish) and has a PhD in Critical Thinking. He is a writer for the Truthout Intellectual Project.


photo credit: readerwalker via photopin cc


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