28 March 2007

After-School Indoctrination

Words really do matter. Even the seemingly smallest, most insignificant words matter. They can sway an argument, alter perception, and muddle clarity.

At the end of February, a story came out about a social engineering experiment conducted at an after-school program in Seattle where the teachers, in their own words, wanted to expose their students to “the inequities of private ownership.” Again, in their own words, “Our intention was to promote a contrasting set of values: collectivity, collaboration, resource-sharing, and full democratic participation.” The article (linked above) then goes on to explore the seemingly obvious socialist indoctrination here. The full account from the teachers, while it’s still up, can be read here. It’s an interesting read.

What I find interesting is the separation in the two comments between private ownership and full democratic participation. In my mind, these two concepts are linked, not only historically but also ideologically. Democratic participation and full citizenship was once limited to landed males only, but has since in many societies grown to include a broad spectrum of people within a nation. In fact, democratic participation is a well-guarded tenet of most capitalistic (and indeed socialistic) states today. Expansion of capitalism and democratic participation for the masses seem to go hand-in-hand. So why then is full democratic participation linked to ideas like collectivity, collaboration and resource-sharing for these teachers?

I believe it is a cover for the fact that, in addition to these teachers forcing their students accept their communist beliefs, they needed to tag a socially acceptable term onto their list so that their program is more likely to be accepted. Notice that the democratic comment occurs last in the list. This is done so that it covers all of the previous aspects. Now, granted, collaboration and resource-sharing are not necessarily bad things to teach. But the backdrop of collectivism belies the intention here.

I would argue that it is important to teach kids about equality, sharing and fair play. However, by creating an artificially egalitarian experience for the kids, the teachers are doing them a disservice just to push their social agenda. It is equally important to teach kids about power, where it comes from, how to use it, and how it can be both constructive and destructive.

Additionally, their social agenda, which amounts to idealistic communism (“All structures are public structures.”) runs contrary to the basic premise of America. Oddly enough, I found the best way of verbalizing this when I moved to Australia. The Aussies call it having a fair go. That’s what all Americans, indeed all people, deserve – a fair chance at making themselves, and thus their community, better. I would argue that this does not come about from being part of the hive, part of the collective, but rather through understanding that things are unequal in the world and that, as an individual, I must work to make myself a better person (and in doing so, am inspired by those doing the same as well as inspiring others). In this way, the whole of society rises. Collectivity, being part of the hive, necessarily lowers norms to the lowest common denominator, or lower.

And finally, I’d like to note that the after school program where this experiment was conducted was a place where children would come for about two hours a night. I wonder if the parents had full knowledge about the indoctrination of their children.

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