State-Run Schools: The New Caesaropapism

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After
two and a half years of the so-called war on terror, it is disturbingly
clear that the attacks of 9/11 were the result of an immoral U.S.
foreign policy and that the government's inability to prevent the
attacks represents a massive and inexcusable failure.

Nonetheless, faith in government reached epidemic levels in the
aftermath of 9/11. Instead of wholesale firings of public employees
and a rethinking of government and its role in our lives, Americans
passively accepted more of the same nonsense that spawned terrorism
in the first place, while witnessing an erosion of liberties and
legal protections against tyranny.

We justifiably demanded restitution from the corrupt leaders of
WorldCom and Enron, who caused not a single fatality, but we remain
silent about government misdeeds. Federal officials, like children,
the senile, and the insane, are not held accountable for their actions,
but we apply a different standard to private individuals. How can
this be?

How – except by reference to a cult-like worship of the state –
can we explain this weird disjunction between promise and performance,
myth and reality? To a great degree, the answer can be found by
examining the role played by government-controlled schools in shaping
the attitudes and beliefs of today's Americans.

The
new caesaropapism

In
many ways, today's state-controlled schools have replaced caesaropapism
– or state-controlled religion – as a means by which rulers
enforce their hegemony over citizen-subjects. Historians may disagree
about the degree to which caesaropapism prevailed in medieval Europe
or tsarist Russia, but it is nonetheless true that the ability to
control ideas was a powerful weapon in the hands of rulers seeking
to strengthen their grip on the people.

In medieval Europe, for example, secular rulers and church authorities
had an ambivalent relationship: at times they cooperated but they
frequently acted as independent, countervailing forces to limit
each other's power. When secular and religious authorities disagreed,
citizens played them off against each other. When secular leaders
dominated the religious hierarchy, however, they found it much easier
to commit atrocities, pursue wars of aggression, and impose taxes
to pay for these wars. During such periods, they depended on the
clergy to reassure people that their policies were in harmony with
God's will and should be obeyed without question, upon pain of eternal
damnation for disobedience.

In the past several centuries, state-controlled educational institutions
have replaced many religious foundations as centers of learning
and of the inculcation of ideas. At the pinnacle of this trend,
the 20th century furnished ample proof that state-controlled institutions
of learning can be used to provide the stamp of approval for cruel
schemes, including human experimentation and torture. The politically
correct theories of u201CAryan science,u201D for example, were used to justify
bizarre anatomical experiments in Germany and the creation of vast
networks of prisons and concentration camps.

Even in the United States, human subjects were unknowingly subjected
to the ravages of syphilis while researchers dutifully recorded
the progress of the disease (the Tuskegee experiment). Without consent,
others also were injected with plutonium (a Cold War program), administered
hallucinogens (the CIA), and sprayed with bacterial agents (San
Francisco Bay) as part of government-sponsored research. These are
the fruits of an incestuous relationship between state-sponsored
academics and politicians.

Playing
games with terror

Some
of the most devastating episodes in history were the result of an
incestuous relationship between religious and secular authorities.
Among these are the 12th-century crusades against Muslims, the 13th-century
Albigensian crusade to exterminate heretics in southern France,
and the 16th-century Spanish Inquisition in the Netherlands.

Similarly, two and a half years ago the president declared his intention
to eradicate u201Cevil doersu201D worldwide. Obeying his orders, American
soldiers slaughtered thousands of defenseless noncombatants – from
wedding parties to hapless children. They call it u201Ccollateral damage.u201D
Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden remains at liberty. At least the crusaders
against the Albigensians achieved some of their misguided goal;
George W. Bush succeeded only in alienating much of the civilized
world and inspiring a new generation of terrorists.

The president's zeal for u201Cdoing good,u201D however, can be measured
in other ways: while he and the military hierarchy were trivializing
the horrors of war by issuing decks of u201Cplaying cardsu201D depicting
55 Iraqi bad guys, they were responsible for killing tens of thousands
of innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq – enough to create a
deck of cards nearly 17 feet high. If we add the hundreds of thousands
of deaths caused by sanctions levied against Iraq since 1991, the
deck becomes significantly higher.

The point is that governments annually murder 100 times as many
people as terrorists. Modern caesaropapism's death grip on the thinking
process, however, guarantees that citizens remain blind to state-sponsored
terrorism and other crimes committed by its minions.

Creating
a cult in the classroom

It
is not enough merely to define and identify modern caesaropapism.
It is just as important to discover how state-controlled schools
came to dominate the American scene after the 1850s and how they
helped to transform Americans into the passive and obedient beings
they have become. To begin, it is essential to understand that state-controlled
schools are not a natural phenomenon. Instead, they represent a
government takeover of vibrant, private-sector initiatives that
were voluntarily funded by parents and willingly undertaken by children
eager to learn. Furthermore, the state takeover of schooling, which
began in Massachusetts during the 1850s, failed to improve the quality
of learning. Even Sen. Edward Kennedy admits as much. In a paper
released by his office, he acknowledged that the literacy rate in
Massachusetts was 98 percent before compulsory education became
law. Since that time, the literacy rate has fallen – never
to exceed 91 percent again.

There is a vast difference between the lifelong process of learning
and what goes on in state-run schools. In fact, state schools serve
a purpose very different from mere learning: they serve to mold
minds and create obedient subjects. Over the centuries, this purpose
has been expressed in various ways. For Martin Luther, writing in
the 1524, the purpose of state schools was u201Cwarring with the devilu201D
– in other words, learning to guard against Catholics, Jews, infidels,
and Protestants who held views different from Luther's.

John Dewey, whose thoughts on public education were used as a blueprint
for schools in the United States, expressed his disdain for independently
acquired knowledge in his book The
School and Society
:

The
mere absorbing of facts and truths is so exclusively individual
an affair that it tends very naturally to pass into selfishness.
There is no obvious social motive for the acquirement of mere
learning.

It was not surprising that after visiting the Soviet Union a few
years after Stalin solidified his grip on that nation's throat,
Dewey openly praised the educational system he found there in his
1929 book, Impressions of Soviet Russia:

The
Russian educational situation is enough to convert one to the
idea that only in a society based upon the cooperative principle
can the ideals of educational reformers be adequately carried
into operation.

That a man of Dewey's towering intellect could make this statement
is a testament to his fallibility or his ruthlessness. Why? Because
Stalin's was clearly the bloodiest regime of the 20th century, claiming
42 million victims, according to R.J. Rummel (Death
by Government
). Only Mao Zedong (37 million victims) and
Adolf Hitler (20 million) came even close to committing u201Cdemocideu201D
on this scale. Once we realize that state-run schools create and
reinforce the habits of complacency and conformity – while
instilling only the most rudimentary skills as a way to justify
their existence – we can understand why a cult-like obedience
to the state is so firmly entrenched and why it is so dangerous.

Indoctrination
and conformity

Instead
of promoting the separation of school and state as a concept vital
to a free society (the modern corollary of separation of church
and state), conservatives and liberals alike have sponsored the
contamination of the learning process to achieve social-engineering
goals.

The result is a system of doctrinal inculcation reminiscent of the
dystopia depicted by George Orwell in the novel 1984. Widespread
acceptance of the mindless slogan u201CUnited We Standu201D is an indicator
of this change. To a skeptical mind, this phrase is an attempt by
cowardly politicians and their adherents to hide themselves in a
crowd – using other citizens as u201Chuman shieldsu201D to protect them
from the violent blowback directed against the American empire and
its expansionist foreign policy. It pretends that no other viewpoint
exists. Even worse, it is not so much an appeal to unity as a demand
for conformity – substituting blind nationalism for a shared devotion
to freedom.

Liberals must understand that the state's near-monopoly control
of the educational process has arrested the development of children
as free moral agents. Instead of producing genuinely thoughtful
and caring citizens who cherish key aspects of decent human behavior
such as the libertarian prohibition on the initiatory use of force,
the educational system churns out partial automatons. They can spit
back the latest political slogans on command but they are unable
to utilize the faculty of reason to arrive at a deep understanding
of what it means to not harm others. They are unable to treat others
with the respect that is due to beings who are u201Cends in themselvesu201D
(just as they are) instead of objects to be used against
their will.

Moreover, they do not value integrity of thought, which requires
a working knowledge of valid and invalid argument forms. These tools
of thinking and peaceful living cannot be nurtured in an atmosphere
where the goals of the current regime are given primacy.

Furthermore, it is difficult for students to absorb important moral
lessons as long as they are inextricably linked to the hypocrisy
and brutality inherent in the tax-based funding mechanism that lies
at the heart of state-run schools. This mechanism requires nothing
less than the coerced submission and victimization of one set of
human beings by a powerful special-interest group comprising teachers'
unions, politicians, and parents.

No collection of good intentions, excuses, or exception-making can
outweigh this violation. When you tax, you steal, especially when
the money taken is to be used to feather someone's personal nest.
When you initiate aggressive war, you murder. When you lust after
and plan to seize foreign oil, you covet.

Separating
school and state

The
system of state-funded, state-run schools places a huge developmental
roadblock in front of children. It blocks intellectual development
because its content is politically determined and it sidesteps the
benefits of market competition. It blocks moral development because
the corrupt funding mechanism of universal taxation (instead of
voluntary fees and donations) is a study in hypocrisy that undermines
moral development by its bad example.

Halfway measures such as magnet schools and vouchers do nothing
to remove the rot at the heart of this approach. While retaining
a tax-based funding mechanism, magnet schools simply siphon off
one group of students into a target location, leaving the rest to
rot in the bowels of an unworkable system. School vouchers may be
even more insidious. Like magnet schools, they do nothing to eliminate
the immoral funding mechanism, and they cause further damage by
co-opting those few honest and independent parents who have taken
financial responsibility for their children by enrolling them in
private institutions or engaging in home-schooling. In effect, they
corrupt America's most desirable parents – making them part
of the sordid system of government-run schools and placing their
children under the thumb of the state.

The proposals of liberals and conservatives carefully avoid the
only solution that solves both the moral and performance-related
challenges presented by state control of schools: total separation
of school and state. Instead, their false solutions mirror a trend
that has become obvious to impartial observers. The fact is that
both liberals and conservatives – when handed the levers of power
– seem unwilling to promote any movement in the direction
of liberty and morality. Instead, once they have a controlling majority,
they focus their energy on legislation that increases the power
of the state in a direction that they favor instead of dismantling
existing programs that they oppose.

For example, although the liberal President Clinton declared that
the era of big government was over, he had attempted a takeover
of health care, increased the level of surveillance on Americans,
and continued the interventionist foreign policy that led to the
9/11 disaster. Similarly, despite having congressional dominance
in the mid 1990s, conservative Republicans failed to reduce government
spending in any significant way, and instead larded America with
social-engineering legislation and pork-barrel defense spending.

The hostility to liberty shown by federal and state governments
is only a mirror of the low esteem in which true freedom is held
by many Americans. Having graduated from state-run slogan factories,
Americans have no philosophical grounding in the importance of liberty
and its intrinsic connection to morality.

Furthermore, large segments of the population do not even possess
the thinking tools by which to lift themselves out of this condition.
Even those who are well educated usually limit their use of high-level
thinking to professional tasks in the workplace. They never apply
these thinking skills to the political and moral environment that
surrounds them. This failure to question, to assess, and to measure
the social fabric in which they live is the ongoing legacy of state-controlled
schooling – the new caesaropapism.

December
1, 2004

Lawrence Ludlow [send him mail]
is a freelance writer living in San Diego.

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