Inside the Beast

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few days ago my sister brought her homework to me asking for help.
She’s in fourth grade, and in Kentucky that means you learn about
state history and government. The question she was having problems
with had little to do with Kentucky state government (which is what
the work sheet was on). Instead, it was a piece of political propaganda:

is it important for the National government to be stronger than
any state government?”

as public school propaganda this is pretty mild (I’m about ready
to graduate from a public high school after twelve years of public
schooling, so I’ve seen much worse), but it’s representative of
an ill near ubiquitous in public schooling – the closure of
lines of dissent. Note the other possible ways the question could
have been worded, “Why do you think the National government is stronger
than the state governments?” “Do you think it is important for National
government to be stronger than state governments?”

so on. However, the worksheet writer (consciously or unconsciously,
taking his or her views as a given) did not open up the question,
instead you were left to rationalize someone else’s political views.
Not a good idea with fourth graders, most of whom still believe
everything they’re told in school. This kind of teaching automatically
suggests that larger governments should be in place to eliminate
pesky things like sovereignty. Take a minute to think about this.
Conservatives and Libertarians alike complain about the oft bizarre
world of multiculturalist, NEA controlled public schools, but this
kind of teaching is more, we’ll say, subtle than a few of
the more egregious incidents we’ve heard of and it’s potentially
more dangerous.

students come out of schools with few critical thinking skills and
plenty of subtle propaganda pieces suggesting that the way things
are now is not only preferable, but natural, hopes of dissent
fall. Remember the mantra: “Everyone’s idea is just as good as anyone
else’s.” Add to that saying an Orwellian twist, “But ours are better
than others.” This is all part of the politics of group.

Nationalist politics of group were to use the schools to create
his perfect soldiers and Aryans interested in pushing forward the
German people. “I will have no intellectual training. Knowledge
is to ruin my young men.” Stalin would have concurred too, schools
in the Soviet Union were geared towards this sort of group-identity
too (a cautionary tale to left wing scientists – Stalin thought
evolution was anti-Communist and sought to ban its teaching). This
same aversion to intellectual training and individualism is found
in today’s public schools.

ills are not just in the subjects that are most obviously easy to
propagandize like English and History, but go even into the math
curricula. One aspect of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA)
is a fifth grade mathematics portfolio. Thanks to arcane grading
procedures and the fact that the results can influence teacher salaries,
a large amount of class time is spent on these. If it encouraged
the teachers to go above and beyond the normal fifth grade math
curriculum it would be excusable; however, the results are a lessening
of actual time spent on learning math. In my fifth grade class,
time where we should have been mastering fractions and division
was spent with class math projects, learning how we would be graded,
and learning our little golden rule: “The answer doesn’t matter
nearly as much as how you write about it.” In the upside-down world
of public schools objective mathematics has become secondary to
subjective explanation. Imagine the engineer who didn’t get the
answer right but wrote it up prettily. This causes a misconception
about how math works with these students that even lasts until high
school. When having the open response section of the AP Calculus
AB test explained to her one student I know asked if getting the
correct answer mattered. Math education is in this way taken away
from concepts and brought into a subjective manner more easily influenced
by group policy.

school has given me a valuable true-life metaphor for the dangers
of group-identity. One feature of public schooling is an aversion
to meritocracy: children from special-ed to gifted are all in the
same classes (at least in Elementary schools) and are also instructed
on group projects regularly. Now, I’ve heard the rationale behind
this from teachers (who are usually mocking it). It is this, “Grouping
children of all sorts of backgrounds and abilities will lead children
to accept each others’ differences and strengths thus learning to
work as a unit.”

group work is necessary in schooling to develop the social skills
that will be useful in the workplace, but anyone who honestly believed
that rationale was being foolish. Inevitably, as in real life, one
person ends up controlling and guiding (and usually doing all the
work for) the entire group – mostly because children (and adults)
are lazy. Group identity is the path to tyranny. Those who subscribe
to a group-identity sign over their wills and consciences to the
guiding lights of their chosen “identity.” Deprived of their individuality,
they naturally allow someone to rule over them. Hemmingway, in his
classic work on bullfighting, Death
in the Afternoon
, said this:

believe, after experience and observation, that those people
who identify themselves with animals, that is, the almost professional
lovers of dogs, and other beasts, are capable of greater cruelty
to human beings than those who do not identify themselves readily
with animals.”

the obvious truth of this statement to anyone who’s familiar with
the insanities of PETA and the Animal Liberation Front, this also
demonstrates the dangers of group identity. People who choose to
identify themselves with groups will, of course, have fewer scruples
against committing cruelties to others, especially members of other

greatest threat to them is to proclaim yourself an individual. Multiculturalism
might try to align you into a group, and conservative nationalism
may try to bring you into a different kind of group consciousness.
However, you cannot choose the lesser of two evils in this case.
As the Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard warned us,
being an individual is the hardest thing in the world, but there
is no other choice.

17, 2003

B. Housley [send him mail]
is a 17-year-old senior at a public high school in Northern Kentucky.


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