XLVII – Legalized Child Abuse

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"If
you could push a magic button that would get rid of just one
political program, which one would it be?" I am occasionally
asked this question. I am not attracted to the idea of pushing buttons
— magic or otherwise — as a way of resolving the messes we have
generated through politics. It is for this reason that I long ago
abandoned any interest in "reforming" the political system
through political action of any kind. Still, if I were to awake
one morning to be told that one political institution had forever
vanished into a "black hole," learning that it was the
governmental school system would give me more satisfaction than
the loss of any other program.

The
wars, riots, inter-group conflicts, and other political and social
upheavals that have become commonplace, are the products of our
individual thinking. Most of us are so enmeshed in mass-mindedness
that it is difficult to imagine an alternative to politicized conflicts
and disorder that is not premised on some collective process of
change. A focused reflection should convince you that the state's
very existence depends upon men and women who are convinced that
[a] the world is too complex for themselves to have any effective
control over their lives, [b] only collectivized efforts can be
effective in overcoming such individual limitations, and [c] such
collective responses to a complex world demands the exercise of
centralized authority by wise and knowledgeable persons.

The
government school system has been the principal instrument for conditioning
our minds along such collectivist premises. From their earliest
years, students are taught the importance of centralized authority,
be it in the form of the state-certified duce at the front of the
classroom; or the state, through the ever-present American flag
to whom each is expected to daily recite his or her allegiance.
Students come to accept that others will select what
is of interest to learn, when and how they will learn,
and will judge the value of what they learn.

In
the process, students are slowly conditioned in the importance of
obedience to authority, and without daring to question the
sufficiency of their claim to such authority. Students learn to
sit in rows, to march in straight lines, to speak only when permitted
to do so and, above all else, to remain compliant with the teacher's
expectations. Various punishments are meted out to those who fail
to meet these demands and, for the student who persists in pursuing
his or her own agenda, the ultimate stigma is attached to their
very person: they are labeled "hyperactive," or suffering
from "attention deficit disorder," and drugged into quietude
with Ritalin, Prozac, anti-anxiety drugs or other medications.

Just
a few days ago, I was driving by one of our neighborhood government
schools. Two young boys were standing inside a fenced-in schoolyard,
looking into the street at their basketball that had gone over the
fence and into the street in front of me. They waved at me and asked
if I could throw the ball back into the schoolyard, which I did.
I then noticed that they had been unable to retrieve the ball themselves
because the gate on this fence had been padlocked. These boys didn't
appear to be criminal types at all, and yet the school was treating
them as such, locking them up in what is little more than a state
penitentiary for children.

At
a time when so much concern is expressed about the evils of child
abuse, it is remarkable that so few people have directed their attentions
to the government school system as constituting the very essence
of child abuse! Children have a proclivity for learning; they eagerly
seek to understand the world about them; and they pursue it with
the same inner spirit and excitement they bring to all their activities.
By their nature, children — meaning you and I — are naturally disposed
to be self-directed, self-motivated learners, so that we may live
as independent but cooperative individuals.

It
has been the purpose of government schools to change all that; to
bring children into that condition of intellectual submission that
will make it easier for them to be controlled by the state. In the
words of Ivan Illich, "[s]chool is the advertising agency which
makes you believe that you need the society as it is." It is
little wonder that so many students regard school as either an undesired
cost or a form of punishment.

Lest
you dismiss all of this as hyperbole, consider the words of the
Los Angeles County government, in declaring that children must be
taught "that we are all part of one big social system,"
and "must learn how to participate effectively in the system."
Or, pay attention to what is implicit in the explicit words of another
school district, stating that "all pupils shall . . . submit
to the authority of the teachers of the schools"; that "every
pupil shall . . . conform to the regulations of the school; obey
promptly all the directions of his teacher and others in authority."
Those who have "wilfully defied the valid authority of supervisors,
teachers, or administrators" are subject to suspension, while
"pupils who are continually disobedient may be referred to
the juvenile court." All of this was necessary, the district
went on, to further the schools' "responsibility of seeking
to correct the pupils' maladjustments and/or re-channeling pre-delinquent
tendencies."

Do
you see the vicious nature of the game being played, by the state,
against those least able to resist, i.e., small children? Is it
any wonder that children who were bullied into subservience by a
system premised upon one rule — obedience to state authority — might
years later find it justifiable to join the Army in order to bully
the residents of another nation into submission to the authority
of their state?

You
may respond that my criticism goes too far; that there are good
government school systems and good teachers. I will admit that some
systems are undoubtedly better than others, but all government
school systems are united on the premise of subjugating the wills
of children in service to state authority. If you deny this, please
let me know of any government school system to the contrary.

As
for teachers, I have, indeed, met many wonderful, creative, and
inspiring individuals who have taught in the government schools,
but many have admitted that much of what they were able to do required
them to ignore school directives, or to deviate from the collectivist
party line, or to use their own resources to provide learning opportunities
the schools would not support. It has also been my experience, however,
that such teachers are in a distinct minority, many of whom get
ground down by the system and eventually change careers. Like their
conscript clientele, many decent teachers are caught up in a corrupt
system over which they have little influence.

Fortunately,
there has been a decided shift of interest away from government
schools. Parents who have been able to transcend their own experiences
with such schools, and who love their children more than they do
the interests of the state, have been turning to private schooling
and/or homeschooling by the tens of thousands.

The
statists have greeted such changes with alarm. The initial response
has been to identify "private schooling" as "elitist,"
something available only to the rich. But as more and more lower-income
people have resorted to private schools — after all, poor people
love their children, too — this Marxist-tinged argument began to
collapse. In an effort to capitalize on bigotry, statists next tried
to equate private schools and homeschooling with "religious
fundamentalism." But apart from the question of whether having
religious beliefs automatically disqualifies one from being able
to direct the education of his or her own children, this argument
by the statists ignores the "fundamentalist" nature of
the state's position. As an agnostic, I am not that familiar with
the day-to-day work at churches, but I doubt that many are more
insistent in inculcating their catechisms than the state
is in insisting upon its own (otherwise known as "political
correctness"). If you would like to see evidence of the current
crop of secular Elmer Gantrys that are loose in the government school
system, you might want to read Diane Ravitch's recent book, The
Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn
.

In
one ongoing effort, the State of Massachusetts has focused its powers
on a homeschooling family, insisting that the parents submit their
educational plans, and subject their children to a system of standardized
state testing to make certain that children are learning what the
state wants them to learn. Policemen and social workers were sent
to the home of this family to demand such testing, and the parents
were even threatened with having their children taken from them
if they did not obey. The parents have steadfastly resisted, declaring
(gasp!) that it is not the business of the state to approve or disapprove
of how they choose to educate their children.

If
the statists were truly concerned with the learning quality of homeschooling
— which they are not — they need look no further than some
reported ACT test scores and other studies that showed homeschooled
children generally performing at higher levels than government-schooled
children. The statists might also be reminded that homeschooled
children have been winners and runners-up in national "spelling
bees" and "geography bees."

I
recently watched the finals of the national spelling bee on television,
won by a homeschooled, twelve-year-old boy whose learning obviously
went far beyond his ability to spell correctly. He spoke with clarity
and self-assurance and, when asked what he planned to do with his
prize money, responded: "I'll probably buy some books, and
put the rest away for college." Here was a young man who seemed
to exude the sense of independence and self-discipline that it has
been the purpose of government schools to suppress.

Shortly
after watching this program, I went to the grocery store, where
I saw a woman with a couple of annoying children. They didn't look
like the sort of kids who could correctly spell "noumenon"
or "aphelion," or would have any interest in trying to
do so. The mother wore a T-shirt upon which were emblazoned, in
about six inch high letters, the words "Up Yours!" I have
no way of knowing, with certainty, where she or her children had
been educated, but if I had to bet my life on it, I would venture
that they were all products of the government school system!

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