Transforming America’s Schools into Authoritarian Instruments of Compliance

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These days, it is far too easy to rattle off the outrageous examples of zero tolerance policy run amok in our nation’s schools. A 14-year-old student arrested for texting in class. Three middle school aged boys in Florida thrown to the ground by police officers wielding rifles, who then arrested them for goofing off on the roof of the school. A 9-year-old boy suspended for allegedly pointing a toy at a classmate and saying “bang, bang.” Two 6-year-old students in Maryland suspended for using their fingers as imaginary guns in a schoolyard game of cops and robbers. A 17-year-old charged with a felony for keeping his tackle box in his car parked on school property, potentially derailing his chances of entering the Air Force.

Thus, it’s tempting, when hearing about the 7-year-old suspended for chewing his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun to chalk it up to an isolated example of school officials lacking in common sense. However, as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, these incidents are far from isolated. They are part of a concerted, top-down approach to creating a generation of obedient worker-bees content to be directed, distracted and kept in line.

Despite a general consensus that zero tolerance policies have failed to have any appreciable impact on student safety, schools have doubled down on these policies to the detriment of children all across the nation. Indeed, the zero tolerance mindset is so entrenched among school administrators all over America that we are now seeing school officials reaching into the personal lives of students to police their behavior at all times. For example, 13,000 students in the Glendale Unified School District in California are now being subjected to constant social media monitoring by school officials. Superintendent Richard Sheehan has hired private firm Geo Listening to analyze the public social media posts of students both off and on campus.

Unfortunately, the Glendale program is simply one component of a larger framework in which all student activity is treated as an open book by school administrators. What we are witnessing is a paradigm shift in American society, in which no personal activity is safe from the prying eyes of government agents and their corporate allies.

Government officials have worked hard to indoctrinate Americans into the belief that everything you do is suspect, and anything you do can be held against you at a later date. This mindset is clear in all aspects of society, from zero tolerance policies in our nation’s schools, to SWAT team raids in our neighborhoods. More and more people are becoming suspicious of others, quick to judge, and more than willing to follow the government’s dictates, however irrational and immoral they may be.

This manner of thinking has been slowly adopted by many Americans, but more worrisome is the manner in which it’s being foisted upon our nation’s youth. We are now living in an era in which childhood as it was once understood, a time to learn, to make mistakes, to try and fail, to try again and succeed, has been replaced by the worst elements of corporate and government culture. Children are treated as workers and prisoners, collected, corralled and controlled by teachers who increasingly act as bureaucrats, forced to fit every child into the exact same mold, regardless of their personal abilities and talents. This mindset is apparent among the proponents of the Common Core Testing Standards which threaten to unleash a new system of standardized testing on a new generation of kids.

As communications consultant Luba Vangelova has noted, the key attributes of a productive member of society are “a zest for life, creativity, perseverance, empathy, effective communication and the ability to cooperate with others. These are things that can’t be measured well – if at all – by tests.”

Psychologist Peter Gray takes this criticism further, noting that children today are rarely allowed the opportunity to engage in undirected creative activity, also known as playing. Gray notes that since the 1960s, time for play has taken a backseat in the lives of children in favor of rigid curriculums revolving around high-stakes testing. Even sports, which were once simply games played on the fly by a mixed group of neighborhood kids, have taken on the rigidity of life in a factory or cubicle.  The obsession with quantifying childhood progress has gone so far that charter schools in DC are beginning to conduct high stakes testing for three and four year old children.

Over the same time period, incidences of childhood mental illness have steadily increased. The number of children and young adults suffering from major depression and generalized anxiety disorder have increased between five and eightfold since the 1950s. The suicide rate for 15 – 24 year olds has doubled, while the suicide rate for those under the age of 15 has quadrupled.

The rise in these mental illnesses is coupled with a decrease in empathy and an increase in narcissism in young people, indicating that their ability to work with others — as is necessary in a society — has been muted. We’re raising a generation of anxious individuals who expect their life’s direction to come to them from orders from above. In short, we’re creating a generation ingrained with an authoritarian mindset.

This situation will only get worse as our children are taught to accept the police state as normal. Between the regimes of zero tolerance, the surveillance of students both in school and in their homes, and the value placed in standardized testing over teaching analytical thinking skills, we are raising a generation which is being encouraged to adopt the authoritarian mindset which pollutes the minds of our government and corporate leaders. By allowing our children to be subject to the forces of the market and the dictates of the state, we are ensuring tyranny within a generation or two, if not sooner.

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