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"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that numbers of people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. . . Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty" --Howard Zinn


How We Become Who We Are


Human history is a history of story-telling. Since the days of sitting around the campfire, huddling in caves or gathering in the sheltering forest, we have taught our children how to kill prey, how to avoid danger, how to cooperate for specific tasks.

Our obeisance to elders and great warriors was a survival skill—those who failed to heed the important lessons passed on fewer genes to the gene pool, for improperly confronting the saber-tooth tiger yielded dire consequences.

As leaders discovered the power for influencing their followers, a host of human institutions were birthed, from communicated religious belief to political government.

The messages passed on by such story-telling have become ever more pervasive and sophisticated. Rather than simple tribal leadership, skirmishes and the passing of life knowledge, by such means did we eventually come to experience capitalism, war between nation states, mass marketing, and institutions such as our public schools.

I first began to think about how education becomes indoctrination while listening to Utah Phillips. He sings about the "Judas ram" that leads the sheep to slaughter, yet always returns safely for the next task of betrayal— a powerful metaphor for the class system.

Utah believes that we are "socialized" to adopt certain values as a result of bias in the public schools. School boards are dominated by businessmen and community leaders. Schools come to reflect the values promoted by businessmen and community leaders through processes no less subtle than text book selection and policy enforcement.

These lessons and policies are likely to reflect the businessman's interest in cultivating an obedient future workforce. There's nothing wrong with promulgating a positive work ethic; the ability to contribute to one's own upkeep, to family and to society is an important social skill.

On the other hand indoctrinating our children with a reluctance to recognize exploitation, class injustice, or even the role of class in our society should be recognized for what it is: instilling a slave mentality for the purpose of exploitation.

There is an article that describes the processes incorporated into the public school system teaching methodology. This review of Dumbing Us Down and other articles demonstrates how easily we can fall into a trap when we unquestioningly accept traditional thinking.

These are criticisms from a traditional family values perspective. Although that territory has been largely "staked out" by religious conservatives, i don't consider the ideas presented in this review any less valid. I'm not yet ready to leap to the conclusion that a recommendation of the religious right— home schooling— is the best solution for progressives. Yet the negative effects of public school education are apparent, and this issue needs more exploration.

I'd love to review the textbook that i recall from seventh grade. I read about a class (caste) system in India, with the so-called untouchables on the bottom social rung. I swear the book dared to propagandize how wonderful it was that we do not have a class system in the United States.

We cannot easily retrieve my seventh grade textbook for examination. However, we can revisit one example of seventh grade "indoctrination".

Frank R. Stockton wrote short stories more than a century ago. One notable example is The War Syndicate, an account of a fictitious war between the United States, Great Britain, and Britain's colony, Canada. The work is positively worshipful of the theme businessman as savior. Four decades before the first nuclear weapon The War Syndicate imagined tactical nuclear-equivalent "motor bombs" which possessed the curious characteristic of inflicting massive damage without (in this story) hurting anyone. Curiously, these weapons are developed in secret in a matter of days and deployed on the battlefield not by the military, but rather by business tycoons.

Stockton wrote another story worshipful of the prerogatives of authority called The Lady or the Tiger. It is this short story which i vividly recall from seventh grade.

In a society controlled in every little aspect by a king, one individual dared to fall in love with the king's daughter. His test of guilt was to open one of two doors. Behind one was a lady (not the king's daughter) whom he must marry, behind another was a vicious tiger which would certainly kill him. Our hero is given a secret signal by the daughter of the king, open the door on the right.

The question implicit in the story, what was behind that door? Should he trust her to deliver him into the arms of another woman? Two doors to open, two choices, two dramatically different results.

In this story the king's justice is arbitrary and exploitative. No alternative is suggested except obedience to the king's commands. I cry foul.

At the time our class debated this, no one was invited or allowed to question the king's justice. Nor was there another choice presented in the telling of the story. Accept the social institutions, no matter how corrupt or unfair.

I was recently asked, which door would i have opened? I replied, neither. Faced with death for no good reason, i would seek to inflict the same price on the king.

Now a single story does not ordain a student's demeanor. What we must focus upon is the selection process. If The Lady or the Tiger told the story of a hero who grabbed the spear from a guard, hurled it at the throne, and thereby sparked a revolution, it would have been considered inappropriate for students of the seventh grade.

Such Spartacus-like material is much safer at the college level, or for high school seniors whose basic inability to disobey has been carefully established by pervasive indoctrination in preceding years.

In 1979 the American Humanist Association's magazine The Humanist published an article by Sarah J. McCarthy entitled "Why Johnny Can't Disobey". It is a fascinating study of how we humans submit to authority. The article was described as controversial, garnering much support from some, much criticism from others.

The article Why Johnny Can't Disobey is not class conscious, yet it reveals fascinating information about an important tool of class domination—authority.

The article Why Johnny Can't Disobey focuses on the question of political correctness, and i don't agree with all of the arguments made, but the basic premise is still valid— we should all be aware of how people tend to become sheep capable of being led to slaughter.

The PC angle means that even conservatives such as Charlton Heston have publicized the obedience question.





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