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.
journey starts in kindergarten, when "students should learn basic
concepts related to history, patriotism (and) national symbols."
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."
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."
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."
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).
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."
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
these elementary truths would break one of the goals of the SOLs: to
"instill in students a thoughtful pride in the history of America."
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."
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?
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.
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."
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.