Virginia's Standards of Learning Indoctrinate Public School Students

Early in 2009, commentators excoriated President Barack Obama for his motivational speech to students, which was feared for its propaganda value. Their anxieties were partly correct, but we indoctrinate children through more overt methods. I looked through Virginia's public school curriculum, the Standards of Learning, for examples of what many professors would call propaganda.
The journey starts in kindergarten, when "students should learn basic concepts related to history, patriotism (and) national symbols."

First graders "will recognize the symbols and traditional practices that honor and foster patriotism in the United States by ... demonstrating respect for the American flag by learning the Pledge of Allegiance."

Our country does much that should make us proud and much that should make us ashamed. But the SOLs implant unquestioned love for the country, for which people are willing to do anything. In "Who Rules America?" author William Domhoff maintains that politicians manipulate these symbols in order to control the public.

We could think of other doctrines to teach young children who are too young to defend themselves intellectually. For example, we could mandate that they learn hurting people is wrong, famously articulated by Jesus Christ, but this may be too liberal or politically correct.
Third graders learn more substantive information about "the exploration of the Americas," including "the }accomplishments of Christopher Columbus."

In "A People's History of the United States," Howard Zinn analyzes Samuel Morison's work on Columbus. Halfway through his book, Morison writes, "The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide." As for his concluding paragraph: "He had his faults and his defects, but they were largely the defects of the qualities that made him great - his indomitable will, his superb faith in God, and in his own mission as the Christ-bearer to lands beyond the seas, his stubborn persistence despite neglect, poverty and discouragement. But there was no flaw, no dark side to the most outstanding and essential of all his qualities - his seamanship."

Most American schoolchildren can name the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria but only a few know that the Reagan administration sponsored terrorist wars in Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador (Google the Nicaragua v. U.S. court case, Battalion 3-16 death squad and El Mozote massacre).
High school students must learn about the Nazi genocide while describing "how early European exploration and colonization resulted in cultural interactions between Europeans, Africans and American Indians."

"No doubt the warfare, enslavement and forcible takeover of indigenous lands is absent from such discussions of 'cultural interactions,'" said international affairs professor Wilma Dunaway. She runs a Web site for teachers dedicated to an accurate view of Appalachian history at

Teaching these elementary truths would break one of the goals of the SOLs: to "instill in students a thoughtful pride in the history of America."

Third graders also learn that producers use natural, human and capital resources ("soil," "people" and "machines") "to produce goods and services for consumers." Removing its own agency, our government mandates that students learn "how physical features and climate influenced the movement of people westward." Furthermore, the history SOLs do not mention global warming, while the science SOLs sanitize it to "potential atmospheric compositional changes due to human, biologic and geologic activity."

Political science professor Richard Rich noted, "It is stunning to me that we can consider people to be 'educated' when they do not understand the basic facts of the global ecosphere on which we all depend for our very lives. How can we have any chance of ceasing to destroy the earth life-support systems if we do not know either how badly we have done this already or what forces led us to do so?"

Their history of the Civil War deviates from preferred methodologies; it is the only war when students are made to look at the perspectives of soldiers from both sides. Why not a South Vietnamese, Dominican, Haitian, Guatemalan, Iraqi, Cuban, Cambodian, Laotian, Filipino perspective?

In "The Curious Case of American Hegemony," David Hendrickson writes, "That messianic and Manichean perspective makes us blind to the misgivings and fears of others, incapable of understanding how our way of war generates intense resentment and hatred, and as ready to misread enemy intentions as to view contemptibly the advice of friends."

Underlying cultural assumptions manifest our indoctrination. In "Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto," which topped the bestseller charts this year, Mark Levin writes, "The Founders believed, and the Conservative agrees, in the dignity of the individual; that we, as human beings, have a right to live, live freely and pursue that which motivates us." Levin objects to "Statists" who teach the fact that our country was founded upon slavery.

Or, as David Brooks wrote in the New York Times last Friday, "Jefferson advocated 'a wise and frugal government' that will keep people from hurting each other, but will otherwise leave them free and 'shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.'"

Similarly, last month I wrote that we should be horrified our government is violating some of the Nuremberg Principles, which were enshrined after World War II explicitly to prevent countries from committing the crimes of fascist Germany and Japan. Judd Smith, a senior political science major, wrote a letter to the editor saying he was "thoroughly disgusted," not that our country is violating Nuremberg Principles, but that someone pointed it out.

The history SOLs stop in 1991. How much relevance can a study of history have without knowledge of current events?

A graduating student would be obedient to nationalism, indoctrinated to a cleansed history, and unaware of current events. This brainwashing is probably internalized in the test makers as objectivity or benevolence. The system is working exactly as it was designed.

Sociology professor Joyce Rothschild said, "If K-12 schools simply parrot the nonsense and talking points that are on TV, then it is hard to see where children might gain any real insight into the history and causes of the important challenges we face as a nation and as one world."

In George Orwell's "1984," government censors throw incriminating news clippings into trash chutes called memory holes, which connect to an incinerator. Censorship is much more open in Virginia.

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