the pessimistic among us, it sometimes seems as if the late twentieth
century has been a horse race between two competing dystopias:
Huxley’s and Orwell’s. For a good part of the century, Orwell
held a length-and-a-half lead. But the happy events of 1989-91
the collapse of communism made the Nineteen Eighty-Four
scenario less menacing in the short term. As we move into the
new millennium, the smart money’s on Huxley, as illustrated by
an item in the Washington Post.
4th’s Post details the hottest new program among
Putdowns," which is being taught in public schools in 40
states. "No Putdowns" aims to inoculate students against
verbal negativity. What’s a "Putdown"? As the Post article
notes, it’s "any critical remarks, sneering, mockery, a sarcastic
tone of voice any ‘words or actions used as weapons.’" The
tykes subjected to this program learn a five-step method that
will shield them against the jeers of their peers: "Think
About Why, Stay Cool, Shield Myself, Choose a Response, and Build
Benfield Elementary School in Anne Arundel County Maryland, the
program slogan "No Putdowns Pass It Around" is
posted around the school like the wise sayings of Kim-Il Sung,
and "everyone has buttons with the same catchy line."
Children from kindergarten to the fifth grade have a 20-minute
"lesson" in "No Putdowns" every day. Benfield
guidance counselor Suzan [sic] Cotter declares that "No Putdowns"
is working: " Our Media specialist had an incident with a
child, and all she had to do was tap her No Putdowns Button. The
child knew just what she meant." You’ve seen the bumpersticker
"Mean People Suck"? Education professionals think that’s
profound, and they’ve got your kid.
professionals have a key role to play in Aldous Huxley’s Brave
New World as well. The denizens of Huxley’s dystopia receive
public schooling in its most intensive form: from the cradle (or
test tube) onward, it’s total education for the total state. Critical
thought and negativity are slaughtered in the womb, or, failing
that, on the playground. Dissent, after all, is unpleasant, and
as World-Controller Mustapha Mond explains: "there isn’t
any need for a civilized man to bear anything that’s seriously
unpleasant." The solution to agitation, discomfort, and dissent
is medication. "A gramme is always better than a damn,"
as the lovely, "pneumatic" Lenina says.
we that far from Huxley’s dystopia? In public schools today, those
who display boyish precociousness are fed Ritalin, and pigtail-pulling
is punished with sexual harassment reeducation. Huxley’s vision
of "Death Awareness Education" has already made it to
some schools, and mutual masturbation lessons (to listen to Joycelyn
Elders and Naomi Wolf) can’t be far off.
or unconsciously, education professionals and public school administrators,
like the controllers in Brave New World, are building a
more pliant citizenry. The New Socialist Person they seek to create
will be a self-absorbed, ignorant, androgynous, humorless, pollyannaish
wanker. But (s)he will be a dependable taxpayer, and no threat
remarks, sneering, mockery, [and] a sarcastic tone of voice" the
behaviors which No Putdowns aims to eradicate are essential to
maintaining a free society. Moreover, for some of us, they’re
essential to maintaining our sanity. A regime that enshrines "tolerance"
but won’t tolerate cantankerousness is a regime that independent
minds can not long bear. And that, likely, is the point.
the professional educators have their way, the brave new world
that’s coming will be a hostile environment for anyone with a
sharp wit and a wiseass attitude. The Nurse Ratcheds that mold
young American minds will keep watch for signs of dangerously
independent thought, and they’ll make sure everyone takes his
pill. (Is it just a coincidence that the public figure bearing
the closest resemblance personally and politically to Nurse Ratched,
Hillary Clinton, made the announcement for her Senate campaign
before New York’s largest teachers’ union?) In the world of "No
Putdowns," obscenities carved into a school desk surface,
and an upraised middle finger to the teacher’s back are acts of
the sublimest rebellion. And the little punks who perform them
are patriots and heroes.